From the President

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07 / 11 / 2017

I like the double-entendre in the title of the topic of this issue of Microbiology Today – ‘Microbiology in Popular Culture’. Culturing microbes has always been an important and popular activity, and a huge set of industries depend on their microbiological cultures. Indeed, life on planet Earth is really the outcome of its underpinning popular (microbiological) cultures! 

However, this issue is really looking at the interface between science and science fiction. Recent popular culture films, such as the recent summer movie, Life, have toyed with the idea of exomicrobiology (microbes outside planet Earth). Recent scientific advances in astronomy and space science suggests that this idea may not be so far fetched after all. We have heard that ancient Mars may once have had oceans and therefore (possibly) Martian microbes. Potentially, some of the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter may have conditions that would permit microbiological life to exist. Statistically it is almost certain that life exists outside the Earth and if it does you can be fairly sure that the first life forms anywhere will be microbial in nature. In the movies, from The Andromeda Strain to Life, science fiction has preyed on our fear of pestilence and microbial diseases rather than the beneficial and essential nature of microbes. Indeed, as humankind starts to contemplate space missions that travel far from the Earth we will certainly have to take with us a Noah’s ark of microbial cultures to ensure that our microbiomes and other microbial partners on which we depend accompany us on that journey.

In terms of popular culture, I am working on the Society’s behalf to try to push for greater exposure of the world of microbes in the popular media and on the television. This project is only at an early stage and we may or may not convey our vision of an ‘invisible planet’ of micro-organisms – but if we do I will report back to you and seek your help.

As President, you may feel that I would say this, but it really is a genuine pleasure working with people who share the same passion for microbiology. Our staff at Charles Darwin House are professionals that bring together a wide range of professional skills. They work as a team and make the role for those of us in Council as easy and pleasurable as it can be. I’ve also enjoyed the company of a large number of practising microbiologists who generously give their time to the Society as Council members, Editors, programme organisers and in other key roles. Discussions at Council have been dynamic, wide-ranging, yet focused and effective. I like team working and this Society is a very good team indeed.

When I started, our Chief Executive Peter Cotgreave asked me what would be my most important objectives during my tenure. I listed three for the record. Firstly, I wanted the Society to grow physically and in influence, but to retain its personality and reputation as a friendly, engaged and nurturing community. Our conference in Edinburgh smashed all records – but it was also a lot of fun. Secondly, I wanted our early career microbiologists to be drawn much closer into the core administrative activities of the Society. Our Early Career Microbiologists’ (ECM) Forum is now going great guns and injecting tremendous energy and vitality into the Society (thank you to Helen Brown, Rebecca Hall and all of the ECM Forum). Lastly, I wanted to maximise our impact in the public arena. We are doing more and more impactful policy work than ever before – and there are more ideas and initiatives brewing. Therefore if I look back on how the first half of my term of office has gone I think we are on track to meet those objectives – but there is still important work to be done. 

Neil Gow