With a stunning view on Lago Maggiore a diverse cohort of researchers working in the field of microbial biotransformation got together at TransCon2019, held at Congressi Stefano Franscini, Monte Verità, Switzerland between 28/4 – 3/5. The organizers Kathrin Fenner (Eawag, Switzerland), Jörg Drewes (Technical University Munich, Germany), and Paolo Demaria (Demaria Event Management, Zurich, Switzerland) prepared an exciting agenda, bringing together people with different backgrounds, all working on understanding and managing microbial communities that are used to detoxify chemical contaminants in natural resources and engineered environments.
Jörg Drewes (Technical University Munich, Germany) kicked off the meeting with a talk that highlighted past progress, current challenges and future directions in the field of microbial biotransformation. In the first session, participants had the opportunity to discuss about the experimental toolbox currently assisting the efforts of understanding microbial communities, environmental contaminants, and their interactions. A wide range of bioinformatics pipelines, analytical chemistry methods, and meta-omic approaches seem to be essential to comprehend such complex systems. Environmental and operational factors in wastewater treatment are also highly influencing the decontamination process, adding another level of complexity to the system. These factors, as well as the issues of bioavailability and bioaccessibility of trace contaminants, were presented and discussed in the following two sessions.
The next topic to be addressed was microbial biotransformation, a still challenging to address matter. Is it possible to link certain species and/or their enzymes to specific biodegradation pathways? A number of recent studies on this topic was presented and discussed, illustrating how microbial diversity influences elimination of contaminants, highlighting at the same time the limitations of establishing causal linkages between reactions and enzymes or species. Michael Zimmermann (Yale University, USA) demonstrated how the expression of specific genes from certain species in other microbial communities, those of the human gut, are affecting the metabolism of drugs, offering great insights into how this approach could be used to elucidate biotransformation in environmental microbial communities.