Recapping Microbes in the City

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Last week, the New York Academy of Sciences and NYU held an intensive one-day meeting on the microbiome, Microbes in the City, at the beautiful NYAS offices in 7 World Trade Center. The AMI was in attendance and in summary, the meeting was a resounding success.

The meeting kicked off with a talk by Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who did a wonderful job setting the tone for the day. Jo began by giving a bit of a history lesson and talked about some of the historical drivers of microbiome science. She talked about some major discoveries that have brought us to where we are today and concluded with a discussion of what The White House is thinking about in terms of microbiome science. An overarching theme was that while microbiome science includes many different habitats, there are cross-cutting questions that if answered in one area, can lead to advances across all microbiome fields.

There were a number of talks about microbiomes of our environment. We blogged about and talked with Chris Mason on the podcast about his work to profile the microbial communities in the New York City transit system and at this meeting we heard from Chris and Curtis Huttenhower from Harvard’s School of Public Health about the Metagenomics and Metadesign of Subways and Urban Biomes (MetaSUB), an initiatives to do the same in cities around the world. We also heard from Marty Blaser and Jane Carlton of NYU about their work that found samples in wastewater treatment plants in New York City included several genes for antibiotic resistance.

While it was largely due to the lineup of speakers, which looked like a who's who of microbiome scientists, there was an energy in the room you often don't see at scientific meetings. Part of that may have been due to the meeting's quick one-day format but the conversations after each talk were stimulating. The questions asked were frequently thought-provoking and I lost track of how many times the speakers said something along the lines of "good question, I will have to look into that." It was exciting to see such an engaging discussion among a community of some of the world's leading microbiome scientists.


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