Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Meeting on Bacteria, Archaea, & Phages

This last week I haven't posted anything because I've been at the 2012 Meeting on Bacteria, Archaea, & Phages.[1] It started on the 21st and ended on the 25th. I submitted two abstracts, one about the work I've done on the effect of certain accessory plasmids on host range in Sinorhizobium meliloti [2] and another about the work I've done on identifying a phage receptor in Sinorhizobium meliloti. I was asked by the organizers to give an oral presentation about the former and to present a poster about the latter.

I've come to this meeting before, four years ago, but before that I never would've guessed that Long Island would be so verdant. I expected it to be overrun by the city. On the top is Cold Spring Harbor. It gets its name from several springs that feed into the harbor.[3] On the bottom you can see a stream coming from one of these springs and some decorative mini-houses that were built over it.

On the beach we saw several schools of small fish and some horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus)—which have their own unique contribution to molecular biology.[4] Can you find the horseshoe crab in the picture above? The water's a little murky and there's a glare from the sunlight, so it could be a little tricky.

Here's the answer if you need it.

Now it's mainly known for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The Laboratory, which currently employs over 400 scientists, has a long and important history of contributions to molecular biology.[5] (There have also been a few controversies.) Across the campus there are sculptures, some of which make reference to concepts in molecular biology. On the top left is a statue of Charles Darwin (I think—it didn't have a plaque). On the bottom left there are actually two sculptures. In the foreground, on the left is a representation of the green fluorescent protein.[6] Behind that is a representation of a ribosome translating an mRNA into protein.[7]

There are cabins on campus for guests to stay in. Ours had a large orb weaver spider that built a web in front of one of the windows and would sit in the middle of it all night long waiting for moths and the like to come by. I tried to catch it the first night but then decided to let it live.

After the last full day of presentations we were all asked to gather outside for an announcement. (To make sure everyone stuck around, they handed out flutes of champagne.[8]) A representative from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM [9]) declared Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory a "Milestones in Microbiology" site.[10] Among the Who's Who who attended the announcement were Jonathan Beckwith (our keynote speaker and creator of the lacZ fusion), Wacław Szybalski (who has attended every CSHL phage meeting since its inception and pioneer in the field of gene therapy), and James Watson (who appears in the pictures above and who was co-discoverer, along with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA).

Most of the time we just ate at the buffet in the cafeteria (which still had a sumptuous variety of food), but on the last evening, after the ASM announcement, we had a banquet. When we sat down there were mussels and shrimp waiting for us and then they served us lobster for the main course. (For those who couldn't or wouldn't eat seafood there was salad, baked potato, vegetables, steak, a "vegetarian meal", etc.) For dessert we had cheesecake.


[1] See http://meetings.cshl.edu/meetings/phage12.shtml.

[2] Read about the paper I recently published on the subject here.

[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold Spring Harbor, New York. For a while it was also a bustling whaling port.

[4] Horseshoe crabs, like Vulcans, use copper, rather than iron, to transport oxygen in their bloodstream (so their blood is blue-green). Other unique properties of their blood make it useful for detecting bacterial toxins. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoe crab#Blood.

[5] For details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory#History.

[6] To learn more about how this protein (which was originally isolated from a fluorescent jellyfish, Aequorea victoria) and how it is a powerful tool for studying molecular biology, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green fluorescent protein.

[7] For a more detailed description of this process, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation (biology).

[8] Up until that point I'd been mildly curious about "the bubbly". But not anymore. I didn't try any because it's against my personal convictions (to learn more about why Latter-day Saints eschew alcohol, see here) but I can say that it smells like yeasty sour grapes.

[9] See http://www.asm.org/.

[10] See http://www.asm.org/index.php/asm-press-releases/92-news-room/press-releases/8173-cold-spring-harbor-laboratory-designated-milestones-in-microbiology-site.

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