Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Editor

From the Editor: Stanley Maloy, Ph.D., Editor in ChiefI recently attended a symposium in honor of Dr. Abigail Salyers, a former ASM President who pioneered the development of a genetic system for Bacteroides. Work from her lab led to many important discoveries, including elucidation of bacterial carbohydrate metabolism in the gut and characterization of conjugation transposons that facilitate promiscuous transfer of antibiotic resistance. Although she was not the first to use germ-free mice to study microbes in the gut, she proselytized their use for studies on the gut microbiome.

Salyer’s journey nicely exemplifies an exciting era for microbiology as the field shifted from a focus on studying microbial physiology of cultured microbes to the elucidation and implementation of molecular biology techniques, the subsequent integration of computational methods (driven largely by DNA sequence analysis) and development of new approaches to understand complex communities and microbial ecology. Microbiology became a more integrative science that provided a robust understanding of the microorganisms and microcosms that make up our world. 

This issue of Microcosm reflects the power produced by the fusion of these different disciplines. Articles in this issue describe how molecular tools have facilitated our ability to track the evolution of pathogens during a pandemic; predict where the next emerging diseases will arise; identify optimal vaccine targets; and reveal correlations between climate change, population biology and evolution. The articles emphasize that these issues are not restricted to human pathogens—we know that human health also depends upon animal health and environmental health (“One Health”). Studies on microbiomes of humans, animals, plants and the environment have demonstrated that microbes play important roles in keeping each of these ecological niches healthy.

Despite the many things we’ve learned over the last half century of microbiology, there is still so much to learn—our discipline has an exciting future. Our better understanding of the role of microbes in the health and disease of organisms and natural environments has prompted many exciting questions that were previously intractable. How can we rapidly develop novel therapeutics to thwart infectious diseases? How can we accurately predict outbreaks before they happen, and build upstream interventions? How can we enlist microbes to engineer a healthier natural environment?

These are only a few of the exciting questions that build on what we’ve learned to address important, complex issues. Whether dissecting details of basic science or developing new applications based upon the lessons learned, one thing is clear—innovative solutions to these big, sticky questions will require diverse teams that bring together different experiences, complementary approaches and global perspectives. Like the diversity of microbes, the wonderful diversity of ASM members will catalyze the innovations in scientific discovery, education and entrepreneurship needed to overcome these grand challenges. 

Stanley Maloy
Editor in Chief, Microcosm