FEMS Focus 14

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September 2012 No.14 NEWSLETTER OF FEMS


On the impact of

Microbiology in Europe Since it is not every day that one meets the Chief Scientific Adviser for the European Commission, we stopped Dr Glover in her tracks as she arrived for the EMF meeting in Brussels. She willingly shared with us her thoughts and visions about science, microbiology and science education in Europe.

FEMS Focus: Congratulations on your new position as Chief Scientific Adviser to EC President Jose Manuel Barroso. What are your main goals for this new job? What do you want to achieve and prioritise? Anne Glover: The job lasts for the years 2012-2014 and my goals are multiple. First of all, Europe needs to invest in science and technology, to optimize innovation and health care, culture and environment. Therefore, the EU legislation should be optimized for better policy-making. Young people should be supported better in their efforts to get jobs and create their future. Secondly, we should intensify knowledge exchange. Excellent science leads to excellent economy. For this to happen, knowledge and communication are required. We should recruit the smart-

FEMS Secretary-General Prof. Tone Tonjum (right) interviews Prof. Anne Glover (left). Source: FEMS Central Office

est young people in Europe to invest in science and technological developments. In order to have a successful economy, one needs to have and maintain success. Why did you enter microbiology? I am a biochemist in training and entered microbiology because of the wonderful experimental system of microbes. They produce fast results and thus reduce experimental costs. What are the opportunities related to microbiology in the European society? What are the challenges in Europe related to microbiology?

From the Editorial Team With the appointment of the first-ever Chief Scientific Adviser to the President for the European Commission, science just got a much-needed shot in the arm in European politics and society. With the first scientific adviser coming from the field of microbiology, the study of these little creatures just received a front-seat attention in decision-making processes in Europe. Being the voice of microbiology in Europe, FEMS deems it very special to have a microbiologist at the European Commission. The European Microbiology Forum invited Prof. Anne Glover to speak at the EMF-hosted event, “The Impact of Microbiology�, in Brussels, Belgium last spring. We made sure to be there. Tone Tonjum & Chared Verschuur-Ballo, Editors

The most important challenges relate to getting enough energy/bioenergy, tackle the various aspects of food-related matters and food safety, and battle serious infections. New diseases are emerging. Since winters are milder, diseases spread farther than before. Take the case of blue tongue virus disease. Microbes adapt and spread. We also need to secure safe food supplies and water supplies. In relation to climate change, there are emerging opportunities for microbes to create energy and produce biodegradable plastics. The problem in promoting microbes is that firstly, you do not see them, and secondly, they might be dangerous. Still, we should promote the relevance and also good aspects of these small things, such as probiotics and normal flora. We should communicate science to young people, explain and make science attractive, share discoveries and excitement. It is all about communication. Through proactive communication, we can also recruit more students.

Any viewpoints on issues related to gender balance in Europe? In order to have and maintain success. you have to retain women in science. It is natural to have families, and there should be support for both parents to share the parental leave. In cases when support is given for parental leave, it is inexcusable to let the tremendous resource women represent escape.

“Why little things matter the most” In her talk titled “Why little things matter the most”, Prof. Glover reite­ rated the importance of microbiology in Europe and what microbiologists can do to send their message across.

How can all of this be secured at the practical level? These are grand challenges and to secure a sound platform in science, I want to have one scientific adviser from each European country. Thereby, science will be promoted collectively and each political state can gain more depth and efficiency in anchoring science into future community for the common good. What do you like best about microbiology? Microbes are a great experimental system. They are cheap and easy to grow. One of the things that strike me about microbes is that when you go out there and you take a pinch of soil, you have literally billions of microbes in that pinch of soil. We do not know what they are doing; we do not know how important they are for diversity or functional reasons so there is a lot of discovery to be done with microbes. We are actually more microbial than human. It seems however, that microbiology is underappreciated. Why is that? People who are not scientists do not like it because you can not see what you are working on. We need to recognize that. We should not underestimate this. They think that microbes are dangerous and since you cannot see them, you should not be interested. These are big issues when you talk to people about microbiology. Are there challenges being faced in the communication of microbiology? Yes, it is all about communication and illustration. The use of practical examples is

Prof. Anne Glover during the EMF meeting in Brussels, Belgium in April 2012. Source: FEMS Central Office

Glover’s take on Microbiology in Europe

“People who are not scientists do not like microbiology because microbes are too small to be seen. They also think that microbes are dangerous. We have to recognize that.

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The European Microbiology Forum, creating a new culture of understanding The European Microbiology Forum, along with the European Academy of Microbiology, is an initiative of FEMS. It is created for communication, interaction and promotion of microbiology. The EMF has the following objectives: To make Microbiology more visible and enable Microbiology to be part of decision-making in Europe; To foster awareness of the potential of European Microbiology Research for the quality of life, economic development and competitiveness of Europe in a global world; To provide easily accessible and instructive information about Microbiology and related research for the general public, the research community, policy-makers, funding agencies and for industry (Info-Web-Portal); and To develop a concept for proactive EMF activities and to stimulate the advancement of research and education in Micro­ biology in Europe. The EMF acts as a communication, promotion and networking board. It aims to be clearly present in the media, to contribute to its goal of driving awareness and positive public opinion of microbiology, among public administrations, students, teachers, and the research and industrial community alike. Communication activities will be broad and shall encompass the active use of new media such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others. EMF expects to achieve this goal through communication expert driven visibility of European Academy of Micro­ biology (EAM) members. Communication activities will allow EMF to be seen as the first port of call for print, web-based and broadcast media (TV/radio) for hot microbiology- related topics as well as being accepted as an essential partner for policy-makers, industry and scientific societies in policy-making, and policy communication.

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Green biotechnology • Modern plant breeding techniques White biotechnology Uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make biobased products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy (such as biofuels or biogas) S oil as Biodiversity Reservoir icrobial biodiversity as an indicator of water quality M T he European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) analyses the potential of modern profiling techniques as an approach to map the whole microbial diversity. This approach: g enerates knowledge on viable but non-culturable microorganisms; i mproves the understanding of the interactions and changes within the microbial community; l inks the impact of human activities to water quality, in particular to its microbial biodiversity.

Source: European Commision

Professor Anne Glover (1956) graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry at Edinburgh University (1978) and obtained a Doctorate in Molecular Microbiology at Cambridge University (1981). She pursued a career in scientific research and became Lecturer and Professor at the Aberdeen University. Through the years, she played major roles for UK research councils and was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2006 by the Queen in recognition of her scientific contribution. She was also recognised as Woman of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology in 2008. Before she was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser to the European Commission (2011), she also held the same post in Scotland (2006-2011).

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most important in science education. I do not know how science is taught in the whole of Europe, but in the UK, we have limited the amount of use of practical examples when we teach science in schools. That is a problem because that is the fun part. Maybe we can be more imaginative. Maybe universities can work with schools and provide that kind of excitement again. Maybe only then will we end up with more microbiologists in the future.

bugs do is kill us whereas in fact, bugs keep us very healthy.” “Most of you will know that there are 10 times more microbial cells in your body than there are human cells so all I am is a walking vehicle for microbial community. “It is not for every research scientist to All I am is a walking vehicle for microbes take their ideas and to go and set up their although that seems a challenging thought own companies. That is going to be very for most people. But it is a good thing for unusual. That is not going to be the norm. us microbiologists to tell that to people beWhat should absolutely be the norm is for cause if it were nor for the microbes in our scientists doing basic research to share their body, we would be dead. So there is absoscience. If other scientists find it interest- lutely very interesting fundamental research ing, that is a certainty of its excellence. They that just came out recently which indicates should also ask, who else will find it inter- that a newborn baby whom we thought was esting? Is this of value to a policy maker? Is sterile from the microbes in the birth canal there a small company who will find this is not the case. They have a microbial comvaluable and take this forward? I do think, munity in their gut so there is a way for the microbes to that it is an ab“Scientists are not very good at communicating move from the solute obligamother to the tion for people uncertainty to policy-makers who want certainty. baby early on receiving pubSomething must be done about that.” in pregnancy.” lic funding for research, to think about who else needs “We know that in Europe, we have a masthat knowledge. If the scientists do not do sive obesity epidemic. There is some interit, if the researchers do not do it, who will esting information on it and research comdo it? Nobody will do it. So we really have ing up. You could be more susceptible to a big obligation in science and knowledge being obese or not depending on your miexchange.” crobial population in your gut. I think it is key for us to be talking about health microShe talked about Horizon 2020 and biology. Some major challenges in Europe maintained the challenges faced by Eu- when people think that microbes have nothrope and how microbiology can help. ing to do with obesity. Well they do actually and it is time for us to talk about this.” “Look at the grand challenges for Europe. I do not have to go through them for you as Prof. Glover also tackled the issue of anmicrobiologists. You can see how microbi- tibiotic resistance. ology is useful to all of these. It is the fundamental platform of scientific research. How “The reason why people die of infections is do we get people to understand that? There because we do not have enough antibiotics is a very interesting advert in the UK and I available. We do have a problem with antiguess it is probably across Europe. This is biotics because there is so much antibiotic the idea of bacteria, of friendly bacteria, not resistance and because of the way legislathe bugs that kill you. But remember that tion is designed to almost restrict the intro­ at the beginning of the 20th century and duction of new antibiotics. From a microearlier, most people died because of micro- biologist’s point of view, there is a shortage bial infection. Now that is extremely unu- of either discovering new antibiotics or new sual but people still do remember that what targets for antibiotics.”

Impact of Microbiology - Program Prof Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser of the European Commission, Guest Speaker. Other speakers: • Cesar Nombela, Chairman, European Microbiology Forum • Jan van Impe, Researcher, KU Leuven • John Glasspool, Vice President, European Vaccines Manufacturers (Head Region Europe on Vaccines of Novartis) • Ron Fouchier, Virologist, Erasmus MC Rotterdam • Xavier van Huffel, Director Risk Assessment of FAVV / AFSCA / FASFC Belgian Food Safety Agency The event was held on April 25, 2012 from 11:00 a.m. to 13:00 p.m. at Rue du Trone 62, Brussels, Belgium.

On the issue of plastics, Prof. Glover expressed that there can be better use for them.

tive and stimulating environment for the world’s population to live in. It is important not only for Europe.”

“We are absolutely wedded to plastics in the 21st century and indeed, they are really valuable. I have always felt that it is almost a tragedy that we would use hydrocarbon fuel like oil to produce plastics that are not so valuable when we could make plastics that are really durable and valuable such as hip joints. We should be preser­ ving some of that hydrocarbon to make valuable plastic. A lot of the plastic we use is not in the least bit valuable like plastic bags in the supermarket. We can look at alternatives and use microbiology to create a new way of thinking.”

She reminded those present of how much of the Earth’s resources Europe uses to satisfy its needs.

Prof. Glover added that microbes can also be used to give the human population a secure future. “This is of course crucial. Clearly, microbes are involved in the production of food and drink but we need to think more clearly how that can be designed. Fungal proteins used to be important, I remember back in the 70’s, we used to get a lot of fungal protein. It was being suggested as some sort of meat substitute. It went out of fashion a bit because it did not taste very good. We should think of addressing the issue of microbial protein by using it as formal protein in our diet, instead of just animal protein.”

She accepted that Europe currently faces enormous challenges where every aspect of science can provide solutions. “Every aspect of science is critical not only in keeping us alive for the future, but in giving us a really interesting, innova-

“Do microbiologists need to interact more with policy-makers? The simple, “Let me remind you about a fact on Eu- short answer is “yes”. This apply to both rope which is one we should be very un- microbiologists and policy-makers. Policomfortable with, and that is that it takes cy-makers use a language that we do not 3 planets worth of resources to maintain understand but microbiologists do to, sciour lifestyle in Europe. Every year. We entists do. We are not very good in comare using more than what we are entitled municating uncertainty and this is very to. In North America, it is worse since much more our problem than that of the they use 5 times worth of resources. We policy-makers. Science is all about uncerhave to be reminded that when we use tainty and we are very comfortable with things, someone else goes without it. it but we are not very good at explaining This is because there is a limited amount that to a policy-maker who wants certainof resources on the planet, except for two ty. Something must be done about that.” things: sunlight and gravity. Those are “We are often very arrogant because we two things that never are going to run out believe we know the truth as scientists on the planet. Everything else is finite. We but policy-makers are also very arrogant need to start thinking about our planet in in terms of what they want and how they those terms. It interact with “Everything in life is all about timing. did not matother people. ter when there This mixing We need to be a bit more strategic.” were 1 billion of personal humans on the planet. It matters now be- opinion with evidence is something we all cause there are 7 billion humans on the need to be careful with. It is very easy to planet. The ones who are not living in go wrong and it is a big problem in terms Europe, in less well-developed countries of European legislation. A lot of the legis– they are really taking off. When you get lation has been established on the basis of richer, you do not just spend your money opinion.” on necessities. You spend your money “The other thing is, looking forward as on luxury. You start eating more animal microbiologists, how often do you look at protein, you start wanting flat screen TV the European legislation plan for the next – and there is not enough animal protein five years and think when would be a good available. The manufacturing of animal time to have a major conference on a parprotein has had a big impact on our cli- ticular topic that will inform parliament? mate. Flat screen TVs, I mention those I suspect not many of you do. I have to because you need rare earth metals for admit that I have not done that in the past flat screen TVs. We are running out of either. Everything in life is about timing. those.” We need to be a bit more strategic.”

Glover’s advice to Scientists

that is easily understood by the public •• UseHavelanguage the courage to communicate uncertainty since it is an inevitable part of scientific work not be arrogant because you know the “truth” •• DoSeparate personal opinion from evidence eliver at the right moment (e.g. plan big scientific • Devents in line with European legislation)


The FEMS Focus is published by: FEMS Central Office Keverling Buismanweg 4 2628 CL Delft The Netherlands Tel: +31-15-269 3920 Fax: +31-15-269 3921 E-mail: fems@fems-microbiology.org FEMS is a registered charity (no. 1072117) and also a company limited by guarantee (no. 3565643). © 2012 Federation of European Microbiological Societies Design: Zak Princic Production: Ilumina.si

The main problem is, she said, scientists do not know how to communicate their work. She expressed over and again that this problem must be tackled because it is a crucial part of research.

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Prof. Anne Glover during the EMF meeting in Brussels, Belgium in April 2012. Source: FEMS Central Office