Sunday, November 13, 2016

Summary of the 2016 International Human Microbiome Congress

Kicking off the IHMC meeting for 2016.
This week I had the privilege of attending the 2016 International Human Microbiome Congress which was hosted in Houston, Texas in the United States. The goal of this recurring meeting is to get the worldwide human microbiome community together to discuss recent progress, current challenges, and future directions. In this post I want to give a summary of the meeting for anyone who could not attend.

Top Three Research Picks

Of course I cannot go into all of the meeting in detail, but I will provide some highlights and encourage you to keep a close eye on the literature as the work presented was either published or near publication. Here are my top three picks for the talks. I should also mention that this is based on the talks I was able to attend. I missed many of the talks during the concurrent sessions (as did everyone since many talks are given at the same time), and because I had to leave before the end of the last day. So these are the top three of what I saw.

  1. Kjersti Aagaard is well known for her placenta microbiome work, which has been met with skepticism around whether the results truly represent a placenta microbiome or whether they are contaminants. It was clear that she is aware of this criticism and is working to address it (in addition to her other very cool research projects). The coolest was that she is using microscopy techniques like FISH to visualize bacteria that appear to be colonizing. Unfortunately it was a fast talk so I’m not going to try going too much into it. They are anticipating publishing the results in the near future however so it will be worth reading for sure.
  2. Ami Bhatt was doing some very cool work with Triclosan and the microbiome. This is an interesting study on a unique cohort since Triclosan is now banned by the FDA in the US.  She was also presenting some interesting FMT work. Not only were the results cool, but I thought her use of metagenomics was interesting, refreshing, and represented an understanding I wish I could say was ubiquitous throughout the meeting. Not only was she using shotgun metagenomic sequencing to get at the presence of functional genes, but was doing some cool work to look at SNP concordance between FMT donors and long-term recipients. She demonstrated a unique and informative approach that I really appreciated seeing.
  3. Morgan Langille presented some very cool work utilizing a wide range of techniques to detect microbiome signatures that can be used to predict irritable bowel disease. Not only was the machine learning presented well, but I thought this was a really cool example of how we can effectively use multiple techniques to understand disease and the human microbiome. We often see a push to use different “-omics” techniques (for lack of a better term) but the studies are often implemented poorly, I think because of the difficulty in understanding how to effectively use them together. This seems like a good example of how it can be done well. They can be used to classify disease states using stool, and then we can go back to determine what factors of them all were most important, and how much more information we really get from each technique. It was another refreshing metagenomics approach that I appreciated seeing.

The Virome

I know that this is mostly expected, but I feel it is worth mentioning again. There was a large focus on bacteria without many talks for fungi and viruses (including bacteriophages). There were a couple, but the almost exclusive focus on bacteria has been a common theme in human microbiome research and I’m not surprised this conference also focused on bacteria. I just feel it is worth mentioning that the future of the human microbiome does not only include bacteria.

Metagenomics and the Microbiome

The theme for the meeting was “frontiers of microbiome science and metagenomic medicine”. This meant that there was a heavy focus on microbiome studies that utilized metagenomic shotgun sequencing to understand the human microbiome. I honestly felt throughout the meeting that this choice might have been a little too restrictive and had the focus too much on the method and not enough on the actual biology and medicine. There was certainly some excellent science, but it would have been nice to have the focus more on how we can use tools to answer important questions instead of looking for questions we can answer with a tool. But I could do a whole post on this so for now I am going to leave it at that. In the end, I think that the next meeting could really benefit from a broader theme that focuses less on a specific method. For example, I preferred the broad theme last year: “future directions for human microbiome research in health and disease”.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, my almost criminally short summary of the 2016 International Human Microbiome Congress. It was a meeting with highs and lows, and I was happy I was able to meet some cool people and see some interesting science. If you are interested in seeing the live tweeting archives, check out #IHMC2016 on Twitter. Questions, comments, or concerns? Please leave a post in the comment section, or reach out via Twitter or email. I always love hearing from readers.

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