UNLOCK symposium invitation

We are thrilled to invite you to the first UNLOCK symposium. Themed “Harnessing the power of microbial communities: the road from undefined to defined synthetic communities”, it promises to be an exceptional gathering of brilliant minds in the field of microbiome research.

The symposium will feature keynotes from renowned experts in the field, shedding light on the latest discoveries and emerging trends in microbiome research. Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in thought-provoking workshops, engage in lively discussions, and expand their professional network.


9:30 – Doors open & registration

10:00 – Welcome – Prof. dr. Hauke Smidt (UNLOCK Facility Coordinator)

10:15 – Keynote – Synthetic Communities – Prof. dr. Diana Machado de Sousa (30 min)

10:45 – Coffee break

11:00 – Keynote – Modeling: in Search of Unifying Concepts – Prof. dr. Frank Bruggeman (30 min)

11:30 – Keynote – Microbial Ecology Research – Prof. dr. James Prosser (30 min)

12:00 – Intro to afternoon programme

12:10 – Lunch and poster presentations

13:00 – Workshops*, round 1 (50 min)

14:00 – Workshops*, round 2 (50 min)

15:00 – Coffee break

15:15 – Plenary session wrap-up discussion and Q&A (45 min)

16:00 – Drinks, bites, and networking


FAIR end-to-end data management
The use of high throughput ‘omics technologies has significantly enhanced our ability to investigate intricate microbial communities at the molecular level. For data reuse, the FAIRification of these extensive data sets is often viewed as an administrative process that typically comes after data analysis. However, there is no strict requirement for these steps to follow a specific order. The way raw data is processed and analysed depends largely on the research design and conditions applied. It is crucial to seamlessly integrate wet lab experiments with computational investigations in the research and development process. Workflows managed through metadata can help avoid unnecessary data manipulation, while provenance registration provides a clear record of the complex steps used for data transformation and analysis. By combining FAIR principles with provenance registration, we not only enhance the reusability of ‘omics datasets but also promote transparency and reproducibility of our findings. Want to know more? Join this workshop.

Undefined vs. defined (synthetic) cultures​: what’s the way forward?
Undefined microbial cultures consist of communities of microorganisms that interact with each other without a well-defined composition. They interact naturally, so we cannot easily predict the interactions between the various microorganisms. Defined or synthetic microbial cultures consist of known microbial species, and controlled, undefined consortia consist of a diverse array of microorganisms. Defined microbial consortia refer to controlled and intentionally assembled communities of microorganisms, that are selected based on specific criteria and known compositions. They are designed to mimic certain ecological interactions, functions, or behaviour observed in natural microbial communities. Should we aim to use undefined cultures in our bioprocesses or is the use of synthetic or defined cultures the way forward? Are synthetic cultures feasible, e.g., do we have enough species/strains in our culture collections that can do the job?

How to get from a research question to experimental design?
Experimental (and modelling) tools available for investigating microbial communities in natural and man-made environments is enormous, and expanding rapidly. The amount of data is growing especially fast  in the field of molecular analysis of microbial communities (meta-omics). Computational tools to deal with all these data – such as the establishment of genome based (stoichiometric) models – are developing rapidly. Limitations lie in resolving the quantitative physiological properties of microbial communities as reflected in the catalysed conversions and exchanged metabolites. This leads us to the question how we can design experiments in a rational manner to align research questions with adequate use of the available tools. What do we need to decipher the roles of different types of microorganisms in microbial communities? In this workshop we aim to discuss how microbial ecology research may facilitate the scientific discovery of principles that determine microbial ecosystem properties and the role of microbial players in the investigated system.

Communities as collections of single strains and cells
Different microbial taxa play important roles in various functions within microbial communities. With the advent of an increase of physiological and genomic information, we can predict and assign specific functions and interactions. However, it has been shown that there can be large differences in genomic and derived functional properties between different strains within a species. Also, a considerable strain-level diversity exists within a given environment (e.g., an individual’s intestinal tract) and between similar environments (intestinal tracts of different individuals). On top of that, cell-to-cell heterogeneity in behaviour within the same environment – even within individual cultures – contributes to the behaviour of a microbial community. Do we sufficiently take into account this strain- and cell-level heterogeneity in functional potential and activity? Do we currently have the right tools and concepts to do so? And what about strain-level heterogeneity when considering the design of synthetic communities?

Matching future research directions & tool developments
In today’s rapidly evolving landscape of microbial research, it is imperative to harmonise our methodologies and tools with emerging technologies and concepts. The convergence of technological advancements and the progress in high-performance computing holds the potential to conduct the development of cutting-edge research tools. Specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing are poised to revolutionise data analysis, shedding light on intricate microbial interactions. Additionally, the blend of diverse modelling approaches offers the opportunity to extrapolate and forecast the dynamics of microbial communities under operational and environmental conditions yet to be experimentally explored. What state-of-the-art tools and technologies are currently accessible for microbiological research? How have these tools contributed to advancing our comprehension of microbial systems? What obstacles and impediments hinder the adoption of novel tools and research trajectories in the dimension of microbiology, and how can these obstacles be overcome? In the context of this workshop, our primary objective is to explore and align the evolving research needs with the development of innovative tools and technologies.

Illustration of microbes. By Folded Paper.

*The afternoon programme contains two rounds of interactive workshops. Please rank the workshops in order of your preference in the registration form. Each workshop has limited capacity. We will try to accommodate your preferences as much as possible.

The programme may be subject to small changes.