Category Archives: conferences & courses

On the importance of conferences

I just returned from the biennial Fungal Genetics Conference held at Asilomar State Park in Pacific Grove, California. It is wonderful, exhausting, invigorating, at times overwhelming firehose of new information. Nearly 900 researchers who work on fungi in some form come to attend.  This meeting grew out of a primary focus on fungal genetics, but has now become a gathering that encompasses epigenetics, genomics,  ecology, population and evolutionary biology, fungal associated chemistry, medical and animal associated mycology, and education and outreach on fungal biology. For me, it has become a special meeting since my first attendance as a graduate student. I’ve made friends, met mentors, got to know the fungal biology stars and rockstars (and more).

On the importance of gathering

I was thinking about the need for conferences and whether it was worth it for ~900 people to get on planes and cars and assemble in one place for a 4-5 day meeting. We read the papers, communicate by emails and video, what is special about a conference? I think there are a few essential things that come out of the meetings.

One is building community. Science is not done in a vacuum. The connections with close friends are strengthened, projects are discussed well past normal bedtimes. The zone that separates competitors and collaborators can be more flexible, or at least the shape of the competition can seem more human than the generic sense of trying to be first to finish and prove a new theory or idea. The mentorship and advice that comes from late night talks at poster sessions and over breakfast are not easily had outside of the conference. I met my postdoc mentor first at this meeting and that helped chart a lot of career.

Another is to hear the latest work. While some people may only cover summaries of published work, there is the exchange of  information all at once that is hard to get in any other way. The nuance of the ideas shared in a presentation can also communicate more effectively than a written publication in some ways, so I enjoy the chance to hear and share the science in this way. Often the Q&A can bring up additional perspectives that add to the discourse.

A concentrated time to think just about the science. The increasingly busy daily routines make it hard to really sit and think about new ideas. While this conference no means has a lot of time for sitting and thinking, there is both the forced occasion to summarize your own work in a short talk and to try and digest the key points of a research project from others. The constant storm of work before the meeting does lead to the inevitable “I’m still working on my talk” that continue before you give you talk … but still this provides a chance to plant a flag on where you are in a project and get perspective on what the rest of the field is doing.

On the importance of place

I’ve only ever attended this conference at Asilomar Conference Grounds. It is a fantastic place for conferences, because of its history, the setting on the dramatic California coastline, the hallowed ground of historic scientific conferences as well as just the general fun and collegiality that being at ‘science camp’ on a grounds that was at one point a YMCA,YWCA summer camp. It is definitely one of the places many who have attended like to call one of their scientific homes. Much like MBL – Woods Hole or Cold Spring Harbor, or Friday Harbor are key places for doing science (and also places for great meetings) I think Asilomar has a clear place for defining the history of Fungal Genetics.

I’ve been to meetings without the sweeping landscape and in sterile hotel conference rooms. That certainly is less exciting, but doesn’t diminish the scientific discussion. But I think there is something different about a place which has the feel of a camp with outside and inside areas to gather in groups to discuss. Some years when the weather is less cooperating and we only can see misty fog and tug up the zippers on our jackets instead of a short sleeve, I still find myself taking a beach walk to catch up on latest projects with colleagues or listening to stories from the seasoned scientists about how a particular technique was perfected on account of seredipity.

Personal connection

The Fungal Genetics and Neurospora Genetics meetings are also a personal waystone for my career and friendships. I gave my first talk at this meeting as a graduate student and have had the opportunity to continue participate and serve on policy committee to help represent the community. I learned I got tenure just before one of the conferences and was able to celebrate with colleagues and friends where it (usually!) feels like success of any is success for the community. Conferences like these have been an important part of my scientific education and a chance to make lifelong friends with shared interests. I see grad school classmates, mentors, former graduate students or postdocs, and meet new people every time.

Future

I wanted to write these thoughts because it is has always been an exhausting but satisfying conference I look forward to. I also know the perpetuity of these events are not guaranteed. It is expensive to run one of these meetings. We are lucky to have the support of the Genetics Society of America for so much of the logistical aspects of organizing the meeting. Nor take for granted that the costs are still approachable for many to attend. Especially as part of my policy committee service, I am more aware of how much it costs to stay, feed, and rent space at a seaside resort in Northern California. Things can change as to who attends these meetings: pricing inevitably goes up, funding available for travel and conferences may be harder to get, or if for some other reason the diverse spirit or culture of the attendees of meetings might change. I can hope we keep infecting new folks with excitement for fungal biology and genetics to keep our field growing and engaged.

Not all change is bad, influx of new people or shifts in the scope of main research topics can invigorate a field with new ideas. Certainly some things will be different by 2019, but I hope many of us find ourselves back to Asilomar for the next installment of the Fungal Genetics conference.

 

Link to the program and a PDF link

Meeting wrapup from ECFG12 in Seville

I recently returned from a successful ECFG12 in Seville, Spain held at the end of March. Some of us flew into Madrid first and took the high speed train to Seville (about 2 1/2 hours) which was a great way to relax and get out of planes after a transatlantic flight. We boarded the train in Madrid and stepped off in Seville. Very fast trains

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The countryside at 200km/hr

The  satellite meetings held before the conference include organism-specific conferences including Neurospora, Fusarium, Dothiedeomycetes, and Colleotrichum and AsperFest

ECFG Sattelite meetings

The conference content was excellent – I am reminded whenever I go to a fungal genetics meeting how fast paced the field has become with the application of genomics and genetics driving studies of cell biology, evolution, and industrial uses of fungi.

It was quite fun to see many of my long term collaborators and colleagues who work in this field. I am also especially interested to see many “non model” systems becoming more tractable with the tools that can be developed based on genome sequencing, transformation techniques, and a growing research community. The separation of “model system” work from applied or medically less clear to me .

This included symbiosis and fungal “communication” or interactions with other organisms such as Hypocreales fungi that are insect associated, as well Dan Vanderpool and his project working on Ophistoma fungi associated with beetles, some interesting Lichen genomics from environmentally sampled thalli from work from Toby Spribille.  Work presented by Jessie Uehling from work by collaboration with the Labbé  (ORNL) and Vilgalys (Duke) labs included a description of endohyphal symbiotic bacteria associated with Mortierella elongata fungus (a “zygomycete” early diverging lineage) which is associated with tree roots.

I unfortunately missed some of the concurrent session that was happening at the same time but some interesting talks in “Unconventional gene regulation” that I would have liked to hear more about.

I also got to hear good work presented in the session on Fungal development and genomics where Minou Nowrousian spoke on Pyronema genome and developmental biology, Francis Trail‘s talk on Fusarium fruiting body development.

I also enjoyed the session I spoke in, organize by Hanna Johannesson and Toni Gabaldón which included great overviews on application of phylogenomics and genomes to fungal biology. This ranged from Hanna on evolution of sex chromosomes in Neurospora tetrasperma,  Saccharomyces and the (amazing) power of yeast genetics and molecular biology (Maitreya Dunham, @dunhamlab) to mycorrhizal fungal genomics (Francis Martin, @fmartin1954), Toni (@gabaldonlab) and the PhylomeDB project but also the analysis of the WGD in Saccharomyces which suggests an alternative scenario for the duplication that may have arisen through allopolyploidization (hybridization between two species) rather than autopolyploidization. Several other great talks in our session including Jaqueline Hess on variation in Amanita genomes, Sarah Schmidt on identifying  AVR2 gene in Fusarium oxysporum.

The plenary sessions were plentiful with highlights across the fungal genetics spectrum. From Phycomyces biology (which has had much of its main origins and efforts in Spain) to Magnaporthe (@talbotlabexeter). Many more interesting work highlighted in the program and links to the abstract book are available. I expect a published report on the meeting will come in the future. Overall I really enjoyed the chance to mix more European and international colleagues and talk about the virtues of football and tapas!

Some of us spent a few more days after the meeting to enjoy Spain or meet with friends. For example Zack and I planned some great Neurospora experiments over tapas and sightseeing.  Hope to be back to Madrid and Spain again soon.

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Eels and shrimp tapas
Eels and shrimp tapas

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2014 Neurospora conferences

The 2014 Neurospora conference at Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove, CA will be held March 6-9, 2014. Registration is now open and a large proportion of the talks will be chosen from the abstracts. Deadline for registration is Dec 31, 2013 but sign up soon to get your preferred housing.

The  Neurospora satellite meeting will be held just prior to the 2014 European Fungal Genetics conference in Seville, Spain.  Additional the 11th International Aspergillus Meeting (Asperfest), and meetings for each of Fusarium, Dothideomycete, Colletotrichum and Mycorrhizal Genomics Initiative will be held just prior to or after the conference. Sign up soon (before 16-Decemeber) to receive reduced participation fees.

Fungal Genetics memorable parts?

Well we’re back from a great meeting. We have pictures to upload, notes to review, and backlog of emails to try and read. If you have any memorable points from the meeting you want to share, please feel free to use the comments system or tweet about it referring to this post and it will link in or use the #fungal2013 hashtag. If you have any pictures to share, please feel to also post links to them. A few years ago we used Flickr to make a pool for these, may try again if there is any interest.

I didn’t do a good job finding my favorite data viz posters as it seemed like it was always such a packed poster session and hard to focus after the long days.

Fungal Genome Tools session at Asilomar

On Wednesday of the Fungal Genetics meeting in the Chapel from 12:15 – 1:30 there will be a fungal genome tools session. Box lunches will be available at the Chapel so you can have a chance to eat during the session.

12:15 – 12:30 AspGD / CGD / SGD – Martha Arnaud (Stanford)
12:35 – 12:50 CFGGP 2.0 – Jaeyoung Choi (Seoul National University)
12:55 – 1:10 Ensembl Genomes – Uma Maheswari (European Bioinformatics Institute)
1:10 – 1:25 FungiDB – Jason Stajich (UC Riverside)

This will be followed by a One Fungus = One Name session from 1:30 – 1:50. See this paper for more information.

Talks will also be posted at tools.fungalgenomes.org and you can see the talks from the previous conference.

On Thursday March 14 there will be a lunch workshop on JGI’s Mycocosm and the 1000 Fungal genomes (Igor Grigoriev) project in Merrill Hall.

On Friday March 15, there will be a lunch workshop on FungiDB (Omar Harb).

2013 FASEB Summer Research Conference “Microbial Pathogenesis: Mechanisms of Infectious Disease”

Snowmass Village, CO

Registration is now open for the 2013 FASEB Summer Research Conference “Microbial Pathogenesis: Mechanisms of Infectious Disease” that will be held in Snowmass, Colorado July 21-26, 2013. The current schedule of invited speakers is attached here. An important feature is that 16 short talks remain to be chosen from submitted abstracts, so there is ample room to be included on the program.

See the program here: 2013 FASEB PROGRAM AGENDA-July 21-26 2013 Snowmass CO and the FASEB SRC site

The history of this unique meeting is that it strives to be truly cross-disciplinary. It is attended by ~ 100+ bacteriologists, virologists, mycologists, parasitologists, prionologist, and immunologists, and the conference seeks to create an interactive environment for a diverse audience of senior and junior scientists who approach similar questions from a variety of angles and model systems. The meeting will begin with the Bernie Fields keynote address on Sunday evening by Jeremy Luban followed by four days of morning and evening talks and late afternoon poster sessions. Like the Gordon and Keystone meeting format, participants gather for all meals and talks, making it easy to get to know many new colleagues during the course of the meeting. The accommodations and site are exemplary, with ample hiking, biking, river rafting and other outdoor activities available during the unscheduled afternoons.

A central goal for the conference is to develop the next generation of colleagues in the microbial pathogenesis field. At this past summer’s meeting, Peggy Cotter continued the “meet the speaker” and “meet the scientist” breakfasts and lunches to encourage greater interaction between students, post-docs and faculty. There was also a career development session the closing morning titled “Grant, manuscript and tenure review” that was led by Peggy Cotter and Eduardo Montalvo and Joe Heitman and this was well received. These will be features of the 2013 meeting, as well as a series of poster and young speaker awards. We are working to invite journal editors to the meeting, and also representatives from the NIH/NIAID (Eduardo Montalvo has attended the meeting previously several times) and possibly also from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

A series of short talks will be selected from Abstracts submitted by graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty.
In the past, this has been a particularly attractive feature of the meeting that has contributed to its popularity and success. 16 short talks will be chosen from the submitted abstracts for inclusion on the program.

The 2013 meeting will be the 10th in this series of highly successful interdisciplinary meetings, and all have been held at the Snowmass site. Thus, there is a rich history and tradition, and many if not all of the previous chairs and co-chairs will be attending the meeting, and which further contributes to the success that the meeting enjoys.

We look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Joe Heitman
Chair, 2013 FASEB Summer Research Conference

John Leong
Vice-Chair, 2013 FASEB Summer Research Conference (Chair 2015 conference)

Posters for Fungal Genetics Conference

To those making their posters for Fungal Genetics meeting, we salute you. Get those 3’10” x 3’10” works of art printed & ready to impress the 900 colleagues who will be at the conference.  I’ll try and count the distribution of fabric posters vs the big prints vs the hand-made 8×11 sheets. I think I’ll also be giving unofficial awards for best non-boring Venn Diagram (think outside the banana) or other memorable data viz. The abstract book should be released soon and I hope to get a Wordle up like from years past. I’m curious to see what topics are trending and if it belies how the fields are changing to address areas in biofuels, use of next gen sequencing, or other areas.

Consider submitting your posters to F1000 or other repositories if you want to share you work outside the meeting. I’m even seeing on public on twitter already from @BenoitCalmes.

The twitter hashtag is #FUNGAL2013 so get your clients ready.

Abstract deadlines for Fungal genetics and satellite meetings

Don’t be late! – December 12 is the abstract submission deadline for the Fungal Genetics meeting in Asilomar from March 12-17, 2013.  Submit your abstract so we can hear about your awesome fungal genetics research.

Dec 12 is also the deadline for satellite meetings including organism specific focus meetings. The 10th Aspergillus meeting, 6th Ustilago meeting, and the Fusarium workshop will take place on the days before the FGC meeting. There are opportunities to present talks and posters at this meeting and many openings for more abstract submissions, so if you’d like the chance to give a talk on your work in one of these species, this is a great opportunity.  You need to register separately for the satellite meetings – go here to register and submit abstracts.

The Oomycete Molecular Genetics Annual meeting will also take place in the days before FGC (March 10-12) but the registration deadline isn’t until end of January.