A potent combination of powerful new analysis methods and abundant data from genomics projects is carrying microbiology forward into a new era. Bacteria in particular are shedding light on fundamental molecular and signalling processes of interest not just within microbiology, but across the whole spectrum of life sciences embracing higher organisms, including plants and vertebrates. Medical research will benefit through improved knowledge of how bacteria behave when inside host organisms such as humans, both in benevolent symbiotic relationships and when causing infectious diseases such as TB.
But the greatest immediate interest in the field lies in the huge potential created by new methods for probing fundamental mechanisms of biology, according to Mark Buttner, who chaired a recent conference organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) designed to bring together specialists from different fields relevant to bacterial research.
"A feeling emerged from the conference that there has never been a better time to be a microbiologist," said Buttner, who is a project leader at the John Innes Centre, an independent laboratory dedicated to plant and micro-organism research in Norwich, UK. "Rapid progress is coming about as a result of the shear amount of biological information made available by genomics and by the new and very powerful methods that are now available to analyse and predict microbial growth and behaviour systematically and quantitatively."
Already the new methods have led to a number of exciting and unexpected discoveries, some of which were revealed at the ESF conference. These related mostly to signalling processes, both at the molecular level within individual bacteria cells, and also between cells within colonies or biofilms. Some of these processes had been thought to operate only within higher organisms, in particular multi-cellular animals and plants.
For example small intracellular (within cell) si
|Contact: Mark Buttner|
European Science Foundation