A big part of the ASM meeting for me was thinking about the role I envision for myself within the microbiology community, and how it will intersect with soil science, biogeochemistry, (and hopefully policy, too). The field of microbiology is so wide, and there are so many exciting techniques, both classical and new. I’ve been thinking about which approaches I want to just understand vs. apply to my own work vs. actively develop further.
It’s funny, in some ways, entering the field at this exciting time. (Or has it always been an exciting time to get into microbiology? I kind of think right now is special.) The sudden capacity for and influx of data from massive-scale sequencing of environmental microbial communities has opened up a whole world of possibilities. However, from something of an outsider’s perspective, it is a bit bewildering to look around and see a lot of projects that seem to be just focused on “seeing what’s there” (without being studies of the “rare biosphere”).
Have we have passed the point where it is enough to simply sequence communities from different environments, and say, “Look – they are different!”? I think that there needs to be another layer. This doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of testing specific hypotheses about the ecology and mechanisms driving those differences (although that approach is always appealing to me). John Taylor made a convincing argument for why traditional hypothesis-driven research isn’t the only valuable approach, in his talk where he described combining exploratory research with “reverse ecology“. It will be interesting to see how the field of microbial ecology balances and combines the two systems in the coming years. (Note: I see there’s an IGERT on reverse ecology at Brown right now.)