The Heron Island Research Station was the venue for the first Genomics of Lower Animals workshop held on September 16-19, and sponsored by The ARC Centre of Excellence Program 4 with the support of the ARC Network for Genes and Environment in Development (NGED).
Thirty-one delegates, including members of various ARC Centre of Excellence, NGED and related labs and overseas invitees, were involved. The meeting featured an eclectic mixture of scientists from bioinformatics, genomics, developmental biology and genetics and microbiology, united by a common interest in corals and other lower animals, and their symbionts. One the main aims of the workshop was to bring together this diverse community – something that does not happen often in Australia, as we generally attend different kinds of meetings.
The international speakers: Prof Thomas Bosch (Kiel, Germany), Prof Ulrich Technau (Vienna, Austria), Dr Monica Medina (California, USA), Prof David Morse (Montreal, Canada).
In addition, six national invitees, seven post-doctoral research fellows and 14 post-graduate students attended.
The Heron Island Research Station, although still undergoing reconstruction after the disastrous fire of 2007, proved to be an excellent venue for a workshop highlighting recent advances in functional genomics of lower animals. This was the first visit to Australia for two of the leaders in this field – Prof Thomas Bosch, who has pioneered transgenic analysis of cnidarians, and Prof Uli Technau, who heads the leading lab involved in functional genetic analysis of development in Nematostella vectensis, the sea anemone that has become the model cnidarian system. Their talks brought home just how far advanced are the methods for functional genetic analysis of Hydra and Nematostella compared to coral. However, it is reassuring that these advances are largely very recent, and that some of the technology should be directly transferable to the coral system. David Morse gave an excellent overview of advances in dinoflagellate biology, and Monica Medina showed intriguing microarray data that are providing insights into many aspects of coral biology. Sylvain Foret and David Hayward gave an excellent overview of their recent experiences in high-throughput sequencing, methods which many labs are either using or thinking about doing so. Also particularly valuable was the contribution of Linda Blackall, showing us how much we don’t know about the microflora associated with corals and how we might address this. Many of the postgraduate gave outstanding talks – in particular, Lotta Kvennefors and Gemma Richards showed potential beyond their tender years.
Poster prizes were awarded to Bryony Fahey (1st) and Marcelo Kitahara (2nd).
Organising committee: Tracy Ainsworth, Bill Leggat, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and David Miller, with special thanks to Lianne de Gunzbourg.
The casual atmosphere on Heron, and the intimate nature of life at the research station, made for fruitful interactions and discussions, and many new links were forged. The European and American invitees are highly influential in their respective academic systems, so there are many potential benefits to the Australian scientific community in building stronger links with them. Bosch is a key participant in “Excellence Cluster – the Future Ocean”, a centre that is in many ways analogous to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and his visit has led to moves towards formal links between the two Centres.
Workshop program and abstracts
Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean” website: http://www.ozean-der-zukunft.de/index-e.shtml
Prof. Dr. Thomas C. G. Bosch website: http://www.bosch.zoologie.uni-kiel.de/