I’ve mentioned before that peer-reviewed publications are the primary way that scientists communicate their work (within their community and the general public). Another venue for scientists to communicate with one another is at scientific meetings. These meetings are gathering places for scientists working in similar research areas to come together for several days and share their latest research. They can be on the regional, national or international scale. Meetings are great places to meet all of the researchers in your field- the bigwigs, the students and everyone in between. Let’s just face it, sometimes it is easier to have a conversation research or otherwise in person rather than via e-mail. If you need reagents from a particular lab or are having trouble replicating one of their procedures, just sit down and talk it out at the coffee break.
The research presented at these meetings is often unpublished or recently published with some lagniappe* data. Scientists at all levels- students, postdocs, and professors or group leaders- present their work in the form of short talks** and posters. The science poster is a physical presentation of your research in a ~3 ft x 4 ft area. Dozens of science posters are hung all over partitions in large rooms and at designated times (or whenever) meeting attendees will come around ask you about your work. This is a great way to get feedback on research before it goes through any official peer-review process. Heeding the suggestions can really help the publication acceptance process go more smoothly.
In all, having scientists come together for annual meetings for their research area drives work forward and provides opportunities for junior researchers to build their network. Think of it as concentrated crowd-sourcing: new ideas emerge, sacrosanct models are revised in light of new data, and scientists return to their labs reinvigorated with long experimental to do lists for their minions.
Specifically, I’d like to highlight the 11th Workshop on Cyanobacteria in St. Louis that I attended last week. There were approximately 200 attendees (professors, students, postdocs, technicians, industry researchers etc.) talking all about their work cyanobacteria. Yes, there are that many people in the world that work on cyanobacteria, and we talked about that research for four days! You can check out the link to the meeting program here. It has the attendees, names of presenters and their presentation abstracts if you are interested.
Cyanobacteria represent a group of organisms (marine and freshwater) that perform photosynthesis and make oxygen in the process. While this biochemical pathway defines the group, they are quite diverse in terms of their forms and the numerous other biochemical pathways they carry out. This metabolic diversity makes cyanobacteria attractive organisms for making useful products- sucrose, ethanol, organic acids, isoprene, isoprenoids or ethylene. All starting with just the inputs of light, water and carbon dioxide. Many presentations described efforts in getting various strains to produce these molecules and how increased flux through these biochemical pathways (natural or engineered) affects other essential pathways and the growth of the cells. Computational modeling of these possibilities was a major theme; taking the current experimental datasets, constraining them with the variables we would like to impose and predicting weak points that must be addressed. The rest of the talks were focused on basic research understanding photosynthetic light reactions, carbon acquisition, nitrogen metabolism and the regulatory systems in cyanobacteria to help them adapt to environmental conditions. These organisms are key players in global nutrient cycles and form the foundation of aquatic ecosystems, so it’s important to study how they work. Also, they represent simple models for studying some fundamental biochemistry (like photosynthesis) that also occur in more complicated organisms (like plants).
In the next few posts I will be highlighting some of this late-breaking cyanobacterial research!
*For those of you not from Louisiana, lagniappe is our way of saying ‘a little something extra, new or unexpected.’
** Talks are usually only 15 – 30 minutes-worth; only a couple of keynote speakers will be given any longer and they will tell you about decades-worth of research.