Our first REAL conference – SfAM 2017

The Microbiome and Human Health Meeting

The HumBug GTs were lucky enough to attend their first national conference in April this year at the renowned Bloomsbury Hotel in London. A diverse timetable was generated by The Society for Applied Microbiology covering the microbiome of multiple body sites and the interaction between the microbiome and human health, so from the off this was right up our street!

With eight talks covering a range of topics I would be here all day discussing each, so I will focus on one which really caught my interest, titled: The Role of the Vaginal Microbiota in Sexual and Reproductive Health, presented by Professor Janneke van de Wijgert from the Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool. Professor van de Wijgerts’ main discussion point was the connection between vaginal microbial imbalance, otherwise known as dysbiosis and bacterial vaginosis, yet certain aspects were applicable across fields.

Her talk began with an interesting point, explaining how the vaginal microbiome does not conform to the trend observed in most body sites. A healthy vaginal microbiome displays a less diverse population, whilst a microbiome linked to bacterial vaginosis is more diverse. The majority of current research highlights the reverse, which makes the research interesting.

A healthy vaginal microbiome is dominated mainly by Lactobacillus crispatus and Gardnerella vaginalis, with diverse anaerobic species including an increase in G. vaginalis and pathobionts (Streptococcaceae, Staphylococcaceae or Enterobacteriaceae) prevalent with bacterial vaginosis.
G. vaginalis was highlighted as the prominent factor for bacterial vaginosis. G. vaginalis has the potential to form a dense biofilm or scaffold matrix within the vagina. How fascinating! This biofilm interacts with the epithelium cells and can even present itself on contraceptive or drug delivery devices, creating difficulties in fully eradicating the bacteria via current treatment options (Schurmans et al, 2015). So far, this longitudinal study has highlighted that it is the specific bacterial characteristic of the biofilm and not the bacterial abundance which is linked to bacterial vaginosis and microbial dysbiosis.

Another interesting bacterium linked to bacterial vaginosis is Lactobacillus iners. The impact of this bacterium is yet to be defined as positive or negative as it has been linked to a lower prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, however has been detected alongside vaginal dysbiosis (Borgdorff et al, 2016). It has been suggested that L. iners is able to modify gene expression to adapt to the changing vaginal microbiome, explaining the multiple roles it fulfils. Another efficient display of bacterial super powers!

So, why is this important? Professor van de Wijgert suggests that although asymptomatic and difficult to treat the impact on female reproductive health is evident, with bacterial vaginosis contributing to STI prevalence, preterm birth and infertility.

Although focused on the vaginal microbiome, males were not free from discussion! Professor van de Wijgert presented findings which suggest that the male tract displays similar core bacteria to those found in the vagina, however varied with sexual activity. Bacterial vaginosis associated taxa have also been retrieved from semen, yet with greater levels of Streptococcus spp. and Lactobacillus than vaginal samples. Research into a partner related reproductive microbiome would certainly be interesting.

Not only was this a highly fascinating day full of scientific research, but a great networking opportunity and gave us our first experience of a national conference. Hopefully next time one/all of us will be presenting a poster or talk!