Meet Invited Speaker Dr Ozgur Kurt
We are pleased to introduce Dr Ozgür Kurt, Acibadem University School of Medicine Department of Medical Microbiology, one of the speakers at the FEMS Online Conference on Microbiology 2020.
Session 4: Microbiomes and human health (mixed focus), 30 October, 14.50 – 17.40
Presentation: Neglected residents of the gut microbiota
What attracted you to study the microbiome?
After I graduated from Ege University School of Medicine, I did my PhD on Medical Parasitology and my thesis was on Dientamoeba fragilis. It was in the beginning of 2000s, and Dientamoeba fragilis was an emerging and neglected pathogen for many researchers, together with Blastocystis. Then, after the addition of PCR to the identification of protozoa in stool, it was noticed that D. fragilis and Blastocystis were more common than before, in both patients and healthy controls. Indeed, both were shown to be “good residents of microbiome” instead of “guilty pathogens” in many surveys. This changing role of D.fragilis and Blastocystis has always been very interesting to me, actually. We also know that they are pathogens for certain people in certain circumstances, and it is also interesting to search this when and how.
What motto or quote inspires you?
“Science is the only true guide in life”. This is a quote of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. This quote is more important than ever, I think, in the “post-truth” era. All “celebrities(!)” of anti-vaccine campaign on social media are waiting for scientists to develop a vaccine today, against COVID-19.
At the FEMS Conference on Microbiology, you will speak about – among others – how for instance D. fragilis can be both friend and foe, and how helminths can contribute to our health. Many people are not aware of these facts and would probably label them as ‘bad bugs’.
Would you say there is something wrong with this line of thinking, this labeling of microbes as only good or only bad? If it is a wrong way of thinking, can it be harmful and how so?
Actually, it is an interesting issue. We may all think that helminths are not only disgusting but also harmful our health, and they should immediately be eliminated once identified in the body. This is also what we suggest when we identify for e.g., Ascaris lumbricoides or Taenia eggs in a stool sample. However, those who are aware of the “Hygiene Hypothesis” know that there are no black or whites in this issue. There are concrete proofs on the immunoregulatory effects of helminths on gut homeostasis. Indeed, it is known that children raised in highly hygienic settings, away from any contact with microbes, may be more prone to allergies or less resistant to infections. It may be surprising for many people to hear that a helminth, Trichuris suis is effective in the treatment of Crohn’s Disease. Recent data shows that such interactions may also be true between gut microbiota and D. fragilis and Blastocystis in certain circumstances. Similarly, we may expect to see D. fragilis and/or Blastocystis in the formula of future probiotics to maintain the health or treating for e.g., diarrhea in humans.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting microbiologists in your home country, Turkey?
Turkish Microbiologists have been on the front line since the beginning of pandemics and overwhelmed by the burden of COVID-19 on health system, as in all countries in the world. Most have been working very hard to keep up with the demand of laboratory tests, while some also conduct active multidisciplinary research in the labs, to develop effective diagnostic methods, anti-COVID treatments and vaccines. Briefly, Turkish Microbiologists deserve more respect than ever, nowadays.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Turkish Microbiology Society that you are a member of?
Turkish Microbiology Society (TMS) was founded in 1931; we are going to celebrate its 90th “birthday” next year. It is one of the oldest institutions and medical societies in the modern Republic of Turkey. Its aim was to fight against infectious diseases and prevent epidemics, which were the leading health problems of young Turkish Republic at that time. Today, TMS is a large society with more than 2000 members, including physicians, veterinarians, biologists as well as pharmacists, MSc and PhD students. There are 14 study groups within TMS, and a total of 35 microbiology meetings were organized in different cities of Turkey in 2019. Lastly, TSM publishes the “Journal of Turkish Society of Microbiology” quarterly, since 1971. The journal accepts scientific articles from all fields of microbiology.