Inaugural SBS Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease

Researchers are increasingly aware that we owe our health and wellbeing, and potentially aspects of our personalities, to the microbes we live with.


To shed some light on the mechanisms involved and highlight different methodological approaches across research areas, the highly successful multidisciplinary ‘Microbiome in Health and Disease' symposium was held on the morning of 13th of April in the Parkville Kenneth Myer Building/Melbourne Brain Centre. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the venue was booked to capacity at 250 seats within days of advertising the event.

Professor Fabienne Mackay seen opening the Symposium

Head of School, Professor Fabienne Mackay, opening the Symposium

A main aim of the meeting was to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and stimulate collaborative projects both within and external to the School of Biomedical Sciences. As anticipated, we saw enthusiastic interactions between microbiologists, immunologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, bioinformaticians and physiologists. The enthusiasm was such that the proposition of a follow up conference next year was unanimously applauded and will definitively be scheduled.

A highlight was the ‘Interactions of microbes with epithelium, immune cells and the nervous system’ presentation by Associate Professor Tor Savidge (Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center, Houston, USA) outlining recent successes of faecal microbiota transplants in treating recurrent Clostridum difficile infection, and emerging microbial signatures in autism spectrum disorders. We also learned about the roles of microbes prior to birth, in innate immunity, in diabetes and their interactions with the nervous system in mouse models of autism. Dietary effects on microbes and brain health, how microbes assist T cell memory, the impacts of antidepressants on microbial communities, parasite-microbial interactions, microbial infection in intensive care units, the use of a gas sensing pill to measure health, and a psychology perspective on the gut-brain axis were also outlined.

Professor Fabienne Mackay who closed the conference noted that a challenge has always been to avoid research silos by stimulating interdisciplinary work, in a campus with so many different lines of research. This symposium on the microbiome demonstrated that it can be achieved, and bring together researchers with many different skills but a common interest, which is how the microbiome influences their systems of interest. While the scientific questions remain very different, techniques needed to study the microbiome are similar and will develop as major driver for convergence.

The School of Biomedical Sciences Research Committee thank Dr Elisa Hill (RMIT/UoM), Prof Gabrielle Belz (WEHI/UoM), A/Prof Ashley Franks (La Trobe University), Mrs Fanoula Mouratidis and Ms Lill Gardner for initiating and coordinating the symposium.