New Trends in Microbiology

Presentation by Zhihong Hu
Director, Wuhan Institute of Virology,
Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Despite their small size, microbes play an enormous role in processes that relate to nearly every aspect of our planet. And microbiology plays a unique and fundamental role in essentially every field of science.

With new techniques, it is now believed that over 99% of microbes on Earth are uncultured, representing a large untapped biological resources. This has greatly expanded our awareness of the diversity of microbes. Metagenomics, which refers to the study of a metagenome (all genomes present in an environmental sample), has been a powerful approach to assessing uncultured microbes since it was developed in the 90's. And environmental microbiology has been viewed as the most exciting field in microbiology. The genomics-enabled research on microbes in nature helps us to understand the origin, evolution and current composition of the biosphere, and the relationships between the biosphere and the environment. Research on microbes thriving in extreme environments (hot springs, salt or soda lakes, deep see and deep subsurface) has been intensified, yielding a large number of new microbes, some of which are of potential use in various applications.

As of the beginning of October 2006, more than 380 complete bacterial and archaeal genome sequences, as well as about 1700 viral genomes are available on NCBI. Genome sequences have revealed the extent and the impact of lateral gene transfer, as well as the importance of point mutations in bacterial evolution. In part of its small genome, microbes serve as models for functional genomic studies such as gene transcription (transcriptomics), protein expression (proteomics), protein interaction, and metabolite network (metabolomics). Genomic studies also facilitate biotechnology such as pathogen diagnosis, vaccine and antimicrobial drug design.

The study of microbes has been extended from the laboratory to the natural communities. This has led to the identification of novel molecular mechanisms of cell–cell interactions, such as the Type III secretion system. Recent studies on microbe–host interactions led to a deeper understanding of innate immunity. We also begin to learn that microbes can cause chronic diseases that were previously thought to be to due to genetics or environment ailments. The knowledge of host-pathogen relationship has facilitated our understanding of the eukarotic organisms.

Modern microbiology is a combination of many sciences. It has become an integrative science that simultaneously adopts the techniques from different scientific disciplines and impacts diverse scientific disciplines.


Speaker’s profile
Dr. Zhihong Hu received the B.S. degree (Virology and Molecular Biology) in 1986 from Wuhan University, China. She obtained the M.S. degree (Virology) in 1989 from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and afterwards became a staff of the institute. In 1993, with a Marie Curie fellowship she went to Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands, for virology research and later obtained a sandwich PhD fellowship from the university. She obtained the PhD. degree from Wageningen Agricultural University in 1998. From 1997 she is Professor at Wuhan Institute of Virology (CAS) and from 2000 she is the Director of the Institute. During her tenure as a Director, the research programs of Wuhan Institute of Virology expanded to cover research on insect viruses, HIV, SARS coronavirus, influenza virus, hepatitis viruses (HBV & HCV), and tumor virology. Her researches mainly focus on molecular biology of baculovirus. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, she becomes interested in the epidemiology and animal reservoir of SARS-CoV and her institute had identified bats as the animal reservoir of SARS-CoV.

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