Participants from 30 countries will convene in Kuala Lumpur in July for the Pseudomonas 2019 Conference where speakers from 12 countries will take to the podium. The conference, co-hosted by the Academic Nexus for Global Scholastic Activities (ANGSA) and the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre is in a large sense unique, as it is entirely devoted to just one specific bacteria. The Organising Chair of the conference, Prof Kalai Mathee (KM), of the Florida International University gives The Petri Dish (PD) Editor-in-Chief DR MAHALETCHUMY ARUJANAN peek into the upcoming conference. Kalai is also Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Medical Microbiology.
PD: It is amazing to see a conference dedicated to one specific species of bacteria. Why is Pseudomonas so significant?
KM: The Pseudomonas genus contains human, animal and plant pathogens as well as biocontrol and bioremediation agents.
In humans, P. aeruginosa causes debilitating outcome including blindness, deafness, and death. It is the leading cost of morbidity and mortality in patients with cystic fibrosis. The intrinsic and emerging antibiotic resistance confounds the ability to eradicate or control P. aeruginosa infections. Currently, the World Health Organisation has listed P. aeruginosa in their critical priority list for drug development due to the emergence of multi-drug and pan-drug resistance isolates.
In plants, P. syringae can cause devastating diseases that can destroy crops such as tomatoes by releasing plant toxin. P. fluorescens causes food spoilage.
In fish — P. plecoglossicida infects ayu fish and P. anguilliseptica infects salmons, trout, white fish and eel.
Bioremediation — P. fluorescens strains and P. putida can be used to protect roots of plants against fungi such as Fusarium and Pythium. P. putida is exploited for bioremediation due to its ability to degrade naphthalene in contaminated soils, and P. stutzeri for degrading carbon tetrachloride.
Biofactory — P. putida has also been the workhorse to synthesise compounds for use in pharmaceutics and agriculture.
There are many more species in this genus that are currently under investigation.
PD: What are the areas of research in this field globally?
KM: As mentioned in my answer to Q1, the genus is widely studied due to its role in diseases, bioremediation, bioproduction. It is also a great model system to study various virulence phenotype such as antimicrobial resistance, biofilm production, evolution and coevolution, environmental sensing (quorum sensing), comparative genomics, secretion system to name a few.
PD: How big is the scientific community involved in this area?
KM: It is a very large community, with over 4,000 individuals (conservative estimate). Since 2018, there are 52,100 Google Scholar Entry. PubMed documented 5,215 articles in 2018. It is perhaps, the second most studied organism. Some would argue that it is the most studied.
PD: What are the major breakthroughs in the field of Pseudomonas research and what remains unsolved or proves to be a challenge?
KM: We understood how bacteria communicate (through chemical signals), how genes or segments of genes enter and exit genomes, how they acquire resistance, regulation and production of polysaccharides, and what are the various virulence factors and their regulation, the list can go on and on.
The major challenge with infections is that it has in-built capacity to acquire DNA from the environment, and this allows it to outsmart antibiotics and treatment. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cystic fibrosis, and hospital-acquired infections especially in critically ill/immunocompromised patients.
The intrinsic and emerging antibiotic resistance confounds the ability to eradicate or control P. aeruginosa infections. In the USA, it is responsible for 51,000 healthcare infections per year. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has classified P. aeruginosa as pathogen of serious threat to humans.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global concern as we will soon run out of antibiotics to treat uncomplicated infections. According to experts, in 2050, the leading cause of deaths will be attributed to AMR-associated infections with an economic cost of up to a 100-trillion US dollars (https://amr-review.org/). There is a real concern that we will return to the pre-antibiotic era.
The other major challenge has been our inability to develop an effective vaccine after almost 60 years of research.
PD: How do you think scientists working in this area could benefit from this conference? What are your offerings?
KM: Conferences are venues where novel ideas are shared — often unpublished data. The conference also promotes interdisciplinary interaction between chemists, molecular biologists, clinicians, and many others. The Pseudomonas 2019 meeting will strive to create an excellent balance of (1) coverage of various species and their role (2) disease mechanisms, and (3) participation of young and old generations from all over the world.
We will present a plenary speaker (USA), four keynote speakers (from the USA, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand), 30 features speakers (from China, Estonia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Singapore, the UK, and the USA) and eight sessions.
The session topics include Antimicrobial Resistance, Environmental sensing, Harnessing the potential of Pseudomonas species, Evolution-Coeveolution, Host-pathogen interaction, Multi-species interaction, Metabolism and Physiology, and Gene regulation & Genomics.
PD: Walk us through the history of this conference. Who are the founders and the impact it has created so far?
KM: The conference, formally abbreviated as Pseudomonas 2019, was inaugurated over 35 years to promote academic and social collaborations among all scientists in the research fields of Pseudomonas. It brought together the stalwarts of that time to Geneva, Switzerland organised by Ken Timmis, Juan Ramos and Victor de Lorenzo.
The founders had major impact on the research agenda and discourse that followed. The topics of discussion continuous to evolve with time and the participant.
For further details, please visit, https://pseudomonasconference.com/history/
PD: How many countries are expected to participate in this conference?
KM: The speakers come from 12 countries — Australia, China, Estonia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Singapore, the UK, and the USA. Currently participants from 30 countries have registered to attend.
PD: Why did you choose Malaysia as the venue?
KM: I am a Malaysian. I completed my BSc (Genetics) and MSc (Molecular Biology) from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. I have been out of the country for the last 33 years. However, I am committed to showcasing our country and culture to my fellow scientists. I am also hoping that the conference will serve as a spark to Malaysian scientists to consider entering the research arena.
PD: Tell us about your research in this area?
KM: My multi-faceted research programme focused on molecular pathogenesis of P. aeruginosa. I am well-respected nationally and internationally by researchers in multiple fields, including comparative genomics, microbiomics, and bioinformatics.
In the last 26 years the bedrock of my research has been in the area of Pseudomonas pathogenesis, alternate therapy using botanicals, microbial biofilm development, regulation of transcription.
I have also published more than 100 articles (in peer-reviewed journals and several book chapters) — many of which are recognised as seminal and have been selected for journal highlights.
In 2008, one of my papers in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences was selected by the Faculty of 1,000 Biology members, a much-coveted honour. I consider a privilege and honour to be elected as the international organising chair for the 17th Biennial Pseudomonas conference.