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Emerging graduate program adds extra buzz to microbiology symposium

You just never know what will happen at a research symposium – what new data you'll see, what sort of questions will arise or where connections will be made that produce new studies and new knowledge. Take the University of Delaware's fifth annual Microbial Systems Symposium, held at Townsend Hall earlier this month, for example.

In that corner, you had a high school student explaining the ways plants may use microbes to warn their neighbors of danger. Across the way, there's a UD freshman talking about different ways of drying sludge for use in biofuels. From the podium, you get an expert's take on why it's complicated to learn about microbial communities at the bottom of the sea, how things differ at various depths and what sediment can tell you.

And from that same expert, UD marine scientist Jennifer Biddle, you get a belly-laugh question like this: Could a cow get so full of hydrogen that it blows up? No, researcher Megan Smith replied respectfully, after showing how some dietary changes affect the amount of methane gas cows give off and increase their hydrogen levels. But, Biddle replied – quoting a grad student from another lab – if that did happen, you could serve up an awful lot of Hindenburgers.