We were represented well at the first edition of the multidisciplinary congress for life scientists: NWO Life 2019.
Coco presented the three different methods that she developed to measure bacterial responses to antibiotics. Checkerboards, fermentors and droplets: Coco uses all of them to distinguish who invades, who resides, and who persists. Given that similar bacteria can invade, reside or persist in our own bodies, there is little need to explain the relevance of this work.
Rinke also uses droplets, but for a different question: can cells communicate? And if so, can they send specific messages to close-by cells, or are their messages open for everyone? She showed that cells can only communicate privately if they live really close together (literally glued to one another). Although this seems abstract at first, it has important consequences for the evolution of symbiotic species: several bacteria that work together to grow faster (which is for example important in yoghurt production). Rinke expects that partnerships can only arise if cheaters are excluded. Conclusion: the partners should have evolved really close together. We all hope that future experiments will tell if this prediction is correct.
Besides our own delegation, there were many enthusiastic speakers. Most impressive were probably the keynote speakers: Iain Couzin and Ottoline Leyser. They talked with so much conviction that it didn’t matter that their research fields were quite far away from microbiology.