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Published online: 17 August 2018

Report from ASM 2018

Kate Seib

Chair of the Local Organising Committee for ASM 2018, Brisbane, Queensland

The sunshine state did not disappoint, and provided some wonderfully warm weather for the 552 delegates that attended the Australian Society for Microbiology’s 2018 Scientific Meeting and Trade Exhibition at the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre, 1–4 July.

The 2018 Australasian Mycological Society (AMS) Scientific meeting was also held in conjunction with ASM2018 on Wednesday 4 July, and continued on Thursday 5 July. Overall, we had a fantastic scientific line-up with a range of leading speakers from Australia and around the world. Microorganisms affect every aspect of life on Earth, and the topics covered by our speakers reflected the diversity of microbiology and the central themes of Environmental Microbiology, Clinical Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis represented within our society.

The conference commenced with the annual Public Lecture on Sunday afternoon, presented by Nicholas Graves, Professor of Health Economics at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Professor Graves is currently the Academic Director for The Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation (AusHSI) and the Centre of Research Excellence in Reducing Healthcare Associated Infections (CRE-RHAI) at QUT. His research brings economics to the study of healthcare and he presented some thought-provoking insights into the use of economic methods for decision-making in healthcare settings.

The conference was then officially opened with a welcome from the ASM President, Professor Roy Robbins-Brown, and the annual ASM awards ceremony. On behalf of the whole society, I would like to congratulate all our 2018 Award Winners, who gave some wonderful presentations during the conference, highlighting their contribution to, and passion for, microbiology.

The award winners and their presentation titles are as follows:

ASM Jim Pittard Early Career Award for distinguished contributions in any area of Australian research in microbiology by scientists in early stages of their career.

Sam Manna (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) – Variation in the capsular polysaccharide locus of Streptococcus pneumoniae isolates from low and middle-income countries in the Asia.

ASM Frank Fenner Award for distinguished contributions in any area of Australian research in microbiology by scientists in a formative stage of their career.

Makrina Totsika (Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology) – My journey with E. coli and urinary tract infections: 15 years, 3 continents, 6 universities and lots of fun on the way.

Anton Peleg (Alfred Hospital/Monash University) – Bacterial drivers of neutrophil behaviour during an in vivo infection.

ASM Lyn Gilbert Award for major contributions in any area of diagnostic laboratory microbiology in Australia or internationally by ASM members/fellows.

Pat Blackall (University of Queensland) – The dilemma and the joy of diagnostic veterinary bacteriology.

ASM David White Excellence in Teaching Award for excellence in the teaching of, and/or innovation in the teaching of microbiology in Australia.

Prue Bramwell (RMIT University)

ASM Nancy Millis Student Awards, which provide the opportunity for one student member from each ASM State Branch to attend and give an oral presentation.

VIC: Pramod Subedi (La Trobe University) – Elucidating the Scs redox pathway and its role in copper tolerance in Salmonella.

NSW/ACT: Kenya Fernandes (University of Sydney) – Cryptococcus and the Swiss army knife of virulence.

TAS: Zoe Bartlett (University of Tasmania) – Surveying Bacillus cereus sensu lato in Tasmanian dairy environments and dairy products to inform food safety risk assessments.

WA: Nicole Bzdyl (University of Western Australia) – Folding your way to greater pathogenicity; the role of cyclophilins in Burkholderia pseudomallei virulence.

QLD: Carrie Coggon (The University of Queensland) – Presence of inhibitory antibodies in patients with Escherichia coli urosepsis.

SA/NT: Erin Brazel (University of Adelaide) – Overcoming antimicrobial resistance – exploiting zinc intoxication to restore antibiotic efficacy.

ASM Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service of, or contributions by, individuals to the Society.

Richard Bradbury (CDC Parasitology Reference Diagnostic Laboratory)

Stephen Graves (Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory)

ASM Honorary Life Membership Award, the highest membership recognition given by the Society.

Julian Rood (Monash University)

Chris Burke (University of Tasmania)

The next highlight of Sunday evening was the Bazeley Oration, presented by Professor Dennis Burton. The Bazeley Oration is supported by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) to recognise significant achievements in the field of vaccines. Professor Burton is Chairman of the Department of Immunology and Microbial Science, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA. He delivered an informative and engaging talk about the interplay of antibodies and the highly mutable virus HIV.

The following three days of the conference featured a diverse and stimulating series of scientific sessions. Of note were the fantastic presentations given by our Plenary Speakers, who described some their recent work in the areas of bacterial biofilms (Professor Fitnat Yildiz – University of California, Santa Cruz), cost effective microbial diagnoses (Dr Susan Sharp – Kaiser Permanente, Portland), bacterial pathogenesis and glycobiology (Professor Michael Jennings – Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University), immunological insights to staphylococcal infection (Associate Professor Victor Torres – New York University School of Medicine), diversity of archaea (Dr Anja Spang – Netherlands Institute for Sea Research) and medical mycology (Professor Karl Kuchler – Medical University, Vienna).

Another highlight of the conference was the Rubbo Oration held on Tuesday evening, which is supported by the Rubbo Trust to recognise outstanding contribution to the field of microbiology. This year, the awardee was Paul Young, Professor of Virology and Head of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland. Professor Young spoke about ‘a Virologist’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and the various stages of his career in microbiology. He also gave us some insights into his research that has focused on developing diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for the flaviviruses. The Rubbo Celebration that followed was held in the Sky Room, with South Bank and the Brisbane Wheel as a backdrop. This celebration provided a great opportunity to interact with colleague and friends, while also listening to the DJ, and having some silly photos taken at the photo booth.

The symposium speakers all delivered excellent talks that highlighted the quality and diversity of research and clinical studies being performed in Australia by people at all career stages, including Students, Early/Mid-Career Researchers, and Senior Researchers. Topics covered in the various symposia and workshops included: clinical diagnostics; antimicrobial resistance; vaccine and therapeutic development; public health and one health; tropical, regional and point of care medicine; genomics; microbial evolution; marine, wildlife and livestock microbiology; bacterial pathogenesis and regulation; viral pathogenesis; medical mycology; fungal ecology and evolution; as well as communication, education and history. As in past years, ASM2018 also hosted a series of events specifically targeted at people in the early stages of their careers, including the Nancy Millis student and ECR breakfast and lunch. These events always provide a great opportunity for students and ECRs to interact with senior scientists in their field, and get some tips and tricks of the trade.

The Sunday and Monday night poster sessions and trade exhibitions gave everyone some time to interact and it was fantastic to see so many people engaging with the poster presenters. Approximately 150 posters were presented over the two nights, 80 of which were presented by students. The quality of these presentations was extremely high, and although it was extremely difficult to judge, six students were selected as poster prize winners.

Karen Kong (City University of Hong Kong) – Combating multidrug-resistant bacteria by phages equipped with sRNAs.

Amy Pham (University of Queensland Diamantina Institute) – The prevalence of inhibitory antibodies in an Australian cystic fibrosis cohort.

Miljan Stupar (University of Queensland) – Molecular characterisation of PPVP, a key effector molecule within the LirA regulon of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Alma Wu (Westmead Institute for Medical Research) – Functional diversity of toxin-antitoxin systems in antibiotic resistance plasmids in Enterobacteriaceae.

Xiaomei Zhang (University of New South Wales) – Identification of serovars’ specific genes for typing the five most prevalent Salmonella serovars in Australia.

Marina Zupan (The University of Adelaide) – Elucidating the Zn(II)-binding mechanism of the pneumococcal protein AdcAII.

ASM2018 was officially closed on Wednesday by the incoming ASM President, Professor Dena Lyras. This was followed by a series of workshops organised by the ASM Special Interest Groups, which focused on genomics, clinical serology and molecular biology, culture media, and Eukaryotic microbes. EduCon 2018 also started immediately after the main ASM2018 Conference, and focused on contemporary and exciting ways to engage students and teach microbiology at all levels.

Finally, I would like to thank all the people that made ASM2018 such an enjoyable event. This includes all our speakers and delegates for their contribution to the event, and our trade sponsors whose ongoing support of ASM is essential to the success of our conference. I’d also like to thank all those involved in the Organising Committee for their hard work - the Scientific Program Chairs, Nick West and Adam Taylor, as well as all the other committee members, Amy Jennison (Sponsorship), Jacqueline Harper (Workshops), Christopher Day (Abstract coordinator), Aimee Tan (Social coordinator), Makrina Totsika, Freda Jen, Alvin Lo, Manisha Pandey, Ian Peak, Erin Shanahan and Tsitsi Diana Mubaiwa (Student/ECR Rep). Similarly, the ASM National Executive (Roy Robbins-Brown, Jon Iredell, Dena Lyras, Cheryl Power and Jack Wang, Rebecca Le Bard) have provided invaluable support to the organisation and smooth running of the conference, along with the National Scientific Advisory Committee and the Theme Leaders (Linda Blackall – Environmental Microbiology; Heidi Drummer – Virology; Tom Riley – Clinical Microbiology; Mark Schembri – Molecular Microbiology; Deborah Williamson – Public Health Microbiology), the Special Interest Groups, the #2018ASM communication ambassadors and ASN Events (especially Kara Taglieri the ASM National Office Manager).

I look forward to catching up with everyone at next year’s ASM2019 conference to be held in Adelaide at the Adelaide Convention Centre from 30 June to 3 July.

New Fellows of the Australian Society for Microbiology

  1. Amy Jennison

  2. Benjamin Howden

  3. Cynthia Whitchurch

  4. Derek Sarovich

  5. Erin Price

  6. Gary Dykes

  7. Geoffrey Coombs

  8. Glenn Browning

  9. Ian Carter

  10. Jacqueline Harper

  11. James Triccas

  12. John Boyce

  13. John Hamblin

  14. Jonathan Iredell

  15. Makrina Totsika

  16. Namraj Goire

  17. Priscilla Johansen

  18. Renato Morona

  19. Roy Hall

  20. Sally Patridge

  21. Stephen Turner

  22. Steven Djordjevic

  23. Suresh Mahalingam

  24. Suzanne Garland

  25. Tania deKoning-Ward

  26. Thomas Ross

  27. Trevor Lithgow

  28. Vernon (Nigel) Kelly

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