Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seminar Teaser

Update: September 1, 2012 - Two more teaser slides for my Labor Day Seminar to the Department. Hopefully this will help the crowd grow from nobody attending to ten people, maybe? These questions are what the seminar will be on.

Original Post:

I am putting together a seminar for Monday and I am kinda proud of this opening slide. Nice to see all the young people and furry animals we've worked with over the past few years. I recommend all PIs do this because rarely do we see the lab family all together, and in one place, unless its for our retirement :) As I said earlier on Twitter two days ago:

One of the top things about being a scientist is watching students become better scientists than you at the same stage.


Training students to be better than you at the same stage = progress = 
brighter future for all.  

Photo of bacteria man altered from The Economist, Microbes Maketh Man, Jon Berkeley/SPL

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wall Street Journal on Wolbachia & Selfish DNA

When Genes/Microbes Look Out Only for Themselves

Wow. Its a fun week for science in the press. First, the Economist cover features the study of the microbiome, and today the Wall Street Journal's Matt Ridley picked up the theme of selfish DNA with a highlight on Wolbachia, cytoplasmic male sterility, and selfish mitochondria. Check out the big link above.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

ASM's "Small Things Considered" Spotlights Our Article, Speciation By Symbiosis

Over at ASM's Small Things Considered Blog, a very popular blog on all things microbes, Elio Schaechter discusses our recent review entitled Speciation by Symbiosis. I'll start this post by saying that I think the review (coauthored by my student Rob Brucker, @liveinsymbiosis) is one of the most important pieces that Ive contributed to. I'll explain more about that opinion below. Elio is favorable to the article. He highlights some of the key aspects of the review, including:
1. Some of the examples they cite are startling. For one, Wolbachia, like some other bacterial symbionts of insects, induces parthenogenesis in the insect host, a form of asexual reproduction that does not involve fertilization and leads to what is called “asexual speciation

2. For another, Drosophila flies reared on different diets house different microbiota, and show strong mating discrimination; ergo, the symbionts dictate who mates with whom. 

3. Bacterial symbionts that we could classify as vertically-transmitted, nutritional mutualists (e.g., insect symbionts in the genus Buchnera) assist in resource exploitation, thereby creating new ecological opportunities for their host

4. Endosymbionts can also induce cytoplasmic incompatibility.  Here the offspring of infected males and uninfected females are sterile, therefore, unproductive. 

5. In other cases, the offspring of hybrid matings become more susceptible to infection than non-hybrids, which may reduce their fertility and viability. We are working on this very issue right now and plan to have a paper ready in the next few weeks.
This review article was actually a decade in the making for me. Speciation by symbiosis was the topic of my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Rochester and along with Jack Werren, we helped put Wolbachia on the map as one of the first cases by which symbionts drive the evolution of reproductive isolation between species. This work was later followed by several other important studies on Wolbachia and speciation and came on the heels of intense evangelizing by Lynn Margulis that symbionts were important to speciation; though I contend that she actually provided little evidence that directly linked symbionts to speciation. In my opinion, Lynn was more interested in showing that symbionts drive adaptations, an undeniable legacy that she has left behind.

After the Wolbachia-associated speciation work came out, there seemed to be a lull in the pace of work on symbionts and speciation. Within the last few years however and the uptick in microbiome studies in all organisms, it has since become clearer that speciation by symbionts in general is a robust field with many new insights to be gleaned in the future. Symbionts drive mate discrimination in Drosophila, rapid evolution of immune genes that in turn cause hybrid maladies in plants, and directly prevent gene flow between closely related species - all discussed in the paper. Our hope is that the review revitalizes the topic for new and old investigators alike, and that as the merger between speciation genetics and symbiosis become seamless, the pioneer of the idea that symbionts drive speciation, Ivan Wallin, be formally recognized. More on Ivan in our article and ASM Small Things Considered Blog.

Finally, we tried to publish this article as open access at various journals, but it ended up in TREE's hands. If anyone needs a full copy of the pdf, do not hesitate to email me. My email is readily available by google search or the lab home page.

Related blog posts:
1. The story behind Speciation by Symbiosis? (April 26, 2012)
2. Is the microbiome part of the organism or the environment?
3. Is the microbiota species specific? (June 23, 2012)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Quantified Self and The Microbiome One Year in The Making

With a custom iPhone app and a year of daily gut microbiome data from Eric Alm et al. at MIT, this video from the 2012 GET Conference (recorded April 25, 2012) shows:
  • His human microbiome is stable over a year
  • Temporal variation within his microbiome is lower than human-to-human variation
  • Fiber has an effect on microbial community structure
  • Travel affects gut microbiome 

A panel of pioneers in "The Quantified Self" movement (self-tracking of health/disease) then meet at the GET Conference to talk about what they have done and learned in the process of self-tracking, including Eric and Larry Smarr. Eric talks more about how the gut microbiome surprisingly stays stable over time. Its resilient. One of the most interesting points in the panel discussion occurs at 7:57 by Larry. He raises the prospect that self-tracking can become the norm and its benefit is that we'll see the onset of disease way before symptoms ever occur. I agree with this. The microbial flora will unquestionably show changes prior to our body ever feeling the negative outcomes. The upshot is that this could lead to preventive medicine in which doctors and patients tweek the microbiome back to normal before something makes us feel ill. Fascinating.

After watching this, you will see that "Medicine 2.0" (web 2.0 + participatory, self-tracking + doctors) is on the horizon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bordenstein Lab Online and Social Media Resources

         Wolbachia (1-5), Nasonia (6-7), & Lab Sites (8-16)

  1. Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project, Discovery-based project on Wolbachia symbiosis for precollege and college science education; includes labs, videos, and lectures, and other resources
  2. Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project Facebook Page, Social media outlet updated weekly (and sometimes daily) to disseminate outreach activities, new Wolbachia papers or news stories, history facts, and conferences 
  3. Wolbachia pipientis, An Exemplar Species Page for the Encyclopedia of Life
  4. Wolbachia, A Heritable Pandemic, Online resources to informational websites, news releases, primary literature, WebQuest, and educational modules 
  5. Bioinformatics, Online educational modules for undergraduate and high school students, Microbial Life Educational Resources
  6. Nasonia Facebook Page, Social media outlet to disseminate Nasonia papers, news stories, history facts, and conferences. Nasonia is a genus of parasitoid wasps that is frequently used in high schools, university labs, and biocontrol companies. 
  7. Nasonia Posterous Page, listserv and blog for Nasonia researchers and educators to email each  other on new tools to the community, collaborative projects, conferences, and more..
  8. BlogSymbionticism – A blog about symbiosis, science, and science education. 
  9. YouTube One Channel - videos and video blogs by Seth on research and science education
  10. Vimeo - videos on research and science education
  11. Insect Innate Immunity Database, an online database and annotation tool of insect immunity genes
  12. Bordenstein lab website, Description of the lab’s research, education, pics, and links to pubs
  13. Twitter, @Symbionticism, Microblogging news stories about symbiosis, genomics, science, education, new Wolbachia papers, and conferences 
  14. Lab Twitter Feeds: @liveinsymbiosis (Robert Brucker, Postdoc), @dnadiva87 (Lisa Funkhouser, Ph.D. student), @JMetcalfVU (Jason Metcalf, M.D./Ph.D. student),  @lifelovescience (Kristin Jernigan, postdoc), @skotomorph, (Joey Simmons, Research Assistant), @lepage_d (Daniel LePage, Ph.D. student)
  15. Lab Blogs: Live In Symbiosis (Robert Brucker, Ph.D.)
  16. Hologenome Facebook Page, Community venue to track the history and future of innate interactions between the microbiome and animal genome.