Highlights from SMBE satellite workshop in Kyoto

I’m currently on holiday in Japan after attending the excellent 2nd SMBE Satellite Workshop on Genome Evolution in Pathogen Transmission and Disease in Kyoto.

Before all the memories fade away with the magic of Japanese onsen, sake, ramen etc I wanted to record some of the highlights.

For me the greatest thing was seeing several invited speakers sharing their talk slots, tag-team style, with members of their lab. Perhaps this wouldn’t work in a more formal conference setting but in this workshop style event it was truly fantastic, and I hope to see more of it (and I look forward to doing it myself too – I didn’t on this occasion because I wasn’t presenting).

Here are some other highlights are in no particular order…

  • Young scientists whose PhD work was discussed at the first workshop (2.5 years ago) by their mentors, now attending the workshop themselves and presenting their latest work as postdocs.
  • 3 minute lightning talks – open to all, in place of poster sessions – at the end of every session. This was a great way to give everyone a chance to participate in the workshop.
  • Gaps in the afternoons to get out and see the city where we have all travelled so far to meet. Best for me was an afternoon visit to Arashiyama to see the bamboo forest and monkey park (thanks enormously to Koji Yahara for guiding us!)
  • A speaker presenting content from a recently published paper, sharing their frustrations about Reviewer #3 and hoping they were here so they could have it out in person… and Reviewer #3 declaring themselves later on in the conference. (You know who you are.)
  • Hearing Ed Feil present the first data from the SpARK project, looking at Klebsiella isolated from intensive human, animal and environmental samples around an Italian city. I’ve had multiple knock-backs from Australian funding apps proposing to do something similar locally, so it was cool to see this work is getting done. I know others are generating similar data in other settings (and we will keep trying in Australia too!) so we should slowly start to gain some much-needed clarity on Klebs ecology.
  • Hearing from Martha Clokie that Burkholderia pseudomallei phages switch between lytic and temperate lifestyle depending on temperature… remaining dormant in the genome at low temperatures and switching to lytic at 37C. So the phages may be our friend in this scenario, holding back the pathogen once it enters humans. Also explains why no prophages have been identified integrated into B. pseudomallei genomes – because these genomes all come from clinical isolates, which presumably were only able to proliferate and cause disease because they lacked the phage.
  • Catching up with past lab members Claire Gorrie and Danielle Ingle, in a foreign land… especially sitting with a group 7 others in a tiny local bar with 8 seats, drinking sake into the night, thanks to Claire’s excellent Japanese 😉

Let’s hope we get to come back to Japan for a third workshop soon…