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#MoBE17 Day 1-2 Summary

The first evening of the #MoBE17 meeting was a reception, with a fabulous keynote talk by Ed Yong mainly focused on Science Communication. Ed had a number of tips for interacting with journalists and thinking about how we present stories instead of facts. The quote of the evening was surely “you cannot replace a feeling with a fact”.  Jonathan Eisen created a Storify of Day 1 which can be found here.

Started the next day with an introduction by Paula Olsiewski, giving her perspective on the field as a funder. The program grew out of work on an earlier program looking at preventing bioterrorism attacks, they soon discovered that little was known about the “normal” indoor microbiome. She gave us the history of the program; recruiting senior researchers early, getting buy-in from early career researchers, building collaborations across fields, engaging the public, and obtaining other support for the field.

Sue Lynch gave the Keynote talk today, talking about her groundbreaking work on childhood asthma and the relationship to the human gut microbiome. Most famous is probably the finding that the presence of dogs in the home correlates with both microbial diversity (more bacteria, less fungi) and that in mice, this has a causative reduction in allergies. Furthermore, they can protect against this effect by the use of oral Lactobacillus supplementation. She presented newer work really digging into the mechanism of these effects.

The next session was chaired by Jordan Peccia and consisted of talks by Jonathan Eisen, Jessica Green, and Lisa Brenner.

  • Jonathan gave an overview of the history and goals of microbenet (www.microbe.net). The project aimed to increase communication and collaboration among different groups (Sloan-funded, other MoBE researchers, stakeholders) as well as different disciplines (architecture, engineering, building science, computer science, microbiology)
  • Jessica talked about the history of the BioBE Center as well as their ongoing work looking at ventilation, lighting, and antimicrobials. They have data showing the influence of all of these things on the communities of microbes indoors.
  • Lisa presented their ongoing and large-scale project related to the Veteran Microbiome Study, in particular looking at the relationship to mental health. She explained the number of ways in which the military provides the optimal environment for these kinds of questions.

The following session was chaired by Elaine Hubal from the EPA and consisted of Shelly Miller, Rachel Adams, Karen Dannemiller, and Mark Mendell.

  • Shelly talking from the perspective of an urban air engineer about how to design controls to improve occupant health. Ensure high ventilation, treat outdoor air first, air cleaners are variable, UV treatment can be effective.
  • Rachel shifted gears from previous times I’ve seen her speak and is now focused more on the chemistry associated with microbes in the built environment (mVOCs). She emphasized the importance of determining viability and that microbes act as traditional particles but that also are doing things.  Presented some recently published work on mVOCs in the built environment.
  • Karen started off asking the question “are medications the best way to treat asthma” followed by explaining two different types of asthma (allergenic and non-allergenic).  These types respond differently to fungi the environment (the former depending more on types present and the latter more on amount present).  And, as with every MoBE meeting I’ve been to… carpets are bad.
  • Mark gave his usual great talk on all the different things that we do know and the many more things we don’t know.   There is a lot of good epidemiological correlations that we understand… but our insights into mechanism are still limited.  For example we know some things that are associated with protective beneficial effects; animal sheds, cattle, animal species, hay, silage, grain-related activities, indoor pets, larger families, drinking unpasteurized milk.   We also know that greater microbial diversity of fungi/bacteria linked with living on farms and lower risk of asthma.  So here’s what gets me… this talk made a huge impression on me at Indoor Air in 2011 where Mark said “the only thing we know for sure is that the smell or sight of mold is correlated with negative health outcomes”.  And here in 2017, we’ve learned an incredible amount about the underlying microbial ecology and I’m not sure that we know much more from a health perspective.

Afternoon kicked off with “Public Health and Indoor Microbial Communities”, chaired by Diane Gold, with talks by Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Bubba Brooks, and Jane Carlton.

  • Maria Gloria gave a fascinating talk about microbiomes and early microbial exposure. She showed data about C-sections versus vaginal births but some new (to me anyway) data about home versus hospital births. She talked about their work on bacterial and fungal communities along an urbanization gradient in South America.
  • Bubba talked about their work in NICUs with infants.  He started off with data showing how hard it is to clean surfaces.  It appears that different NICUs have distinctive microbial signatures and that associations with these signatures can be found in the infant gut.  The NICUs are clearly a reservoir for some things that colonize infants, and strains can persist across infants.
  • Jane Carlton brought microbial eukaryotes to the table with her work on protists.  Microbial euks and viruses are lucky when they get mentioned at all… most “microbiome” work is really just bacteria.  Although to be fair, metagenomics is denting that paradigm.   Anyway, Jane talked about characterizing microbial euks in NYC.  There are certainly more pathogenic varieties than I was aware of!  She talked about wastewater sampling which transitioned nicely into the next section.

The last talk session of the day was “MoBE insights on microbial exposure”, chaired by Laura Kolb, with talks by Eric Alm, Emmanuel Mongodin, and David Mills

  • Eric Alm talked about sewage surveillance in the Boston area. He gave some general conditions for what makes a good sewage surveillance target, using polio as an example.  Sewage surveillance has some really interesting potential from an epidemiological perspective but numerous privacy concerns were raised on Twitter regarding this kind of potentially identifying information.
  • Emmanuel Mongodin gave a talk that was almost more about science communication than about his work.  He talked about the cigarette microbiome which I admit I had never thought about.  Apparently there are viable bacteria in cigarette smoke and they can potentially produce toxic byproducts.  Emmanuel suggested that perhaps germaphobia could be used to advantage here, to convince cigarette smokers that cigarettes are gross.  This prompted some pushback on Twitter by folks (including myself) who felt that this is a strategy with collateral damage potential.
  • David Mills talked about his work on creameries and wineries.  I would say one of the major take home messages here was about the importance of sensors.  By having good sensors in the right places they were able to collect great metadata for microbial ecology studies… but also the sensors were of value to the facilities and helped with engagement.

The day ended with a Panel Discussion entitled “Myth and Reality of MoBE manipulation” chaired by Rob Knight. The panel consisted of Rita Colwell, Jeffrey Siegel, Ilana Brito, and Jessica Green. The discussion wandered across a lot of territory but some of the main topics of discussion were how to present this work to the public, when/how/should we manipulate the indoor microbiome, priorities have to be set (e.g. not building in a flood plain is more important than thinking about post-flood probiotics), and that different stakeholders have different priorities (e.g. a doctor versus epidemiologist in a hospital).  Hard to summarize, but all the video will be online soon!

Closed out the evening with a nice poster session, lots of great stuff as usual.  Jonathan made a Storify of Day 2 which can be found here.


David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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