3 things I learned last week

(or how I'm making an effort to keep up with what's going on in microbiology these days)

Go to the profile of Claudio Nunes-Alves
May 16, 2017
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It’s been a while since I last posted something here in the community, and the easiest excuse would be to say that I’ve been busy. We have been getting quite a large number of submissions lately, which is great – I still feel that one of the best aspects of the job is to be constantly exposed to different stories, from all corners of the micro world. But honestly, this is also quite a challenge, as it translates to spending a lot of time sitting in front of my computer shifting from Word, Excel and Acrobat windows opened in my screen to assess every article in depth before making the most informed decision on whether to consider each piece for publication in our pages (YES, we do read every paper!). This also means that, in weeks when submission rates are higher than usual (and we really don’t have any control about what comes in each week), it’s easy to get a bit bogged down on what’s coming through my desk while losing track of what’s going on elsewhere. I know this doesn’t affect just me or editors – the same was true when I was in lab, although in those days the endless incubation times did offer some chances to at least browse through most journals’ tables of contents. And don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of ways that can help me (and you) to keep up to date with what’s happening (maybe I’ll post about that here in the future, but just for starters, you can get Feedly to manage your RSS feeds; turn to the lovely Research Highlights section of Nature Reviews Microbiology; or use Twitter to get the latest alerts, including by following Nature Microbiology), but all of these strategies have one thing in common - none of them really works if you don’t use them (which clearly I haven’t been doing enough lately)!

The other problem with getting a bit bogged down in your own stuff is that you get the feeling that you’re missing out on all of the excitement – at least for me, reading a cool story reinvigorates my desire to learn more about a given topic and serves as a welcome distraction from staring at all those files looking at me on my screen, even if for just a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I get my fair share of exciting stories coming across my desk, but navel-gazing is seldom a good exercise - there’s plenty of great microbiology out there making its way to different journals, so I do like to keep an eye out for what’s happening elsewhere!

So in the hopes of solving my problems, and potentially aiding with yours, I’ve decided to start a new exercise here in the community – every week (or every other week, or whenever I find the time, but you’ll admit that “3 things I’ve learned over the last week or couple of weeks or month or so” doesn’t really work well as a post title) I’ll try to write a quick summary of 3 things that I've recently learned. This exercise will make me have to look for these things on a more regular basis, plus I’ll actually have to think about them in order to write about it; and hopefully this will also help you to learn something new.

So without further delays, here are the 3 things I learned this week:

1. Bacterial biofilms talk to each other. Ok, maybe they don’t really 'talk', but they communicate, in the form of coupling via electrical signalling. In times of limited nutrient availability, this results in the colonies growing in turns, which actually improves their growth rates. The full paper is in Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6338/638

2. Bacteria may be able to cause hospital infections because animals learned to survive on land. A study looking at the evolution of enterococci, which include common hospital pathogens like E. faecalis, suggests that they originate from around the same time as animal terrestrialization, between 425 and 500 million years ago. Commensal enterococci seem to have arisen from bacteria living in marine hosts, and their speciation and diversification matches the diversification of hosts living in land. This adaptation to survive in association with terrestrial animals is thought to have selected for traits that now enable pathogenic species to survive disinfection and antibiotics in the hospital setting, including a hardened cell wall. The paper was published in Cell: http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674%2817%2930478-6

3. No matter how hard you try, stereotypes are hard to eradicate. If you live in the UK and shop at a specific supermarket store that happens to have an orange logo, you’ll have noticed that you now get offered free Lego cards with your purchases. I think there are 140 cards, and we’ve been collecting a few of these (they’re for my son, I swear!). When you have them all, you’ll be able to build a world, and for it to function properly, a bunch of the cards represent professionals. We weren’t surprised to find mechanics, nurses, plumbers… but we unexpectedly found a scientist in there as well – hooray! Maybe this isn’t surprising, given that Lego has in recent years come up with a research institute that includes a palaeontologist, astronomer and chemist, and even features a microscope (whose purpose seems to be to allow the palaeontologist to look at bones, but you can always pretend that they are actually featuring a microbiologist). But I’m afraid it’s not all good news, as the scientist is one of the few characters whose profession comes adjectivized: there’s no insane mechanic, nutty nurse, mad janitor, nor bonkers plumber, but of course the scientist would have to be a crazy one. Oh well, there’s still work to do…

Go to the profile of Claudio Nunes-Alves

Claudio Nunes-Alves

Senior Editor, Nature Microbiology

I'm a senior editor at Nature Microbiology, interested in all things bacteria, virus, archaea, fungi and parasites (but I mostly handled articles focusing on bacterial physiology, evolution, parasites and archaea). Before joining Nature, I studied biochemistry at the University of Porto, Portugal, as an undergrad; and was a grad student and post-doc in the labs of Margarida Correia-Neves (ICVS, Braga, Portugal), Sam Behar (Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, and then at UMass Medical School, Worcester, MA) and Christophe Benoist (at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA), where I studied multiple aspects of immunity to tuberculosis.


Go to the profile of Matti Jalasvuori
Matti Jalasvuori 9 days ago

Maybe craziness is still an undervalued characteristic for a scientist ;)

Go to the profile of Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson 9 days ago

I agree - let's embrace our crazy side!

I also love this post, it's a great way for me (and I'm sure others) to keep up to date with the best of the literature.

Go to the profile of Claudio Nunes-Alves
Claudio Nunes-Alves 9 days ago

Go to the profile of Claudio Nunes-Alves
Claudio Nunes-Alves 9 days ago

Of course what that previous empty comment box meant to say was "Thank you Matti and Ben". I'll try to make this a regular thing (even though I probably won't have many more LEGO-related things to discuss)