View from the conference: ICCPB 2019

25 Sep 2019 - By: Dr Lynne U. Sneddon

View from the conference: ICCPB 2019

Adelino Canario, Peter Hubbard and Barbara Zielinski. Photo: Lynne Sneddon

By Dr Lynne U. Sneddon, Chair of the Animal Section

The International Congress on Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry (ICCPB) took place in the pretty Canadian capital city of Ottawa in August. ICCPB runs every four years and is supported by a range of societies including the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB).

The Animal Section of SEB sponsored four excellent symposia at ICCPB and it was my great pleasure to attend this fascinating event. Each of the five days of this meeting kicks off with an exciting Plenary Speaker and wow what a line up was assembled by the organisers. The theme for the meeting was mechanisms and evolutionary processes in animal physiology and biochemistry so each plenary speaker provided a perfect perspective on the subject. Patricia Schulte kicked off the meeting with an insightful take on inter-individual variation as a window into physiological mechanisms and their evolution. Much to our frustration physiologists often see high variation between individuals in their response to environmental change. Using the fish, Fundulus heteroclitus, Schulte discussed how intraspecific variation allows individuals to differentially adapt to a changing environment. One of my favourite subjects is the comparative physiology of sensory systems and how evolution has shaped these so I was delighted Thomas Park was speaking about the curious naked mole rat who are not only naked but blind and feel no pain. These long-lived subterranean animals live in a mind boggling environment of underground tunnels in the dark with high carbon dioxide and low oxygen. Yet they are well adapted with a nervous system highly resistant to low oxygen and they lack pain receptors that response to the acidosis caused by high carbon dioxide. Fritz Geiser discussed the evolution of mammalian endothermy and the survival of catastrophic events presenting torpor as a possible adaptive trait. How flies are able to maintain flight paths over a long distance in the face of abiotic and biotic perturbations was presented by Michael Dickinson who is using neurobiological and biomechanical approaches to truly understand this phenomenon. On the final day I was delighted to see a former SEB Animal Section Convenor for Thermobiology present her adventure in Greenland. Holly Shiels showed videos which almost made me sea sick of the scientific expedition she undertook bravely to study the Greenland shark. Holly adopted a variety of approaches to study the heart of this incredibly long lived species to investigate fibrosis, atherosclerosis, mitochondrial dysfunction and regeneration. 
Graham Raby, Sandra Binning and Dominique Roche. Photo: Lynne Sneddon

The first of the four symposia that the SEB Animal Section sponsored was entitled “Aquatic acidification and fishes: challenges, controversy, and future directions” organised by three talented scientists, Sandra Binning, Graham Raby and Dominique Roche. This highly topical subject is currently a serious cause for concern and studies by Cosima Porteus demonstrate how acidification affects neurtotransmitters and impairs the olfactory system in fish. In the second symposium “Pheromones and kairomones: Identities, detection and modes of action “ organised by Peter Hubbard, Adelino Canario and Barbara Zielinski concerned all those smelly molecules that signal identity, sex, behavioural intention and provide an important means of communication between animals. Studies using crustaceans, lamprey, fish and newts all provided excellent evidence of how chemical communication plays a key role in modulating behaviour and physiology. Charles Derby showed some amazing videos of crayfish urinating on each other since the urine carries all of the chemical signatures of the individual: in pairs where dominance is established the dominating individual sent huge plumes of urine over the subordinate who remained submissive during this experience but this demonstrated that chemical communication prevents costly injurious fighting. I am pleased Peter Hubbard and Adelino Canario will be running the 2020 SEB Animal Symposium on the subject of chemical communication at CCMAR, Faro in May next year.

Emily Cornelius Ruhs and François Vézina ran a very interesting symposium entitled “Hitting a wall: the pace of flexible adjustments to acute environmental change”. Emily presented her work on how acclimation to cold temperatures can help to prepare birds better for cold snaps using a variety of physiological measures. Continuing the themes of sudden and rapid changes in temperature Francois investigated the response to temperature declines: in the first 72h of sudden low temperature, food intake increased by 24% in the warm phenotype compared to 8% in cold acclimated individuals, confirming that spare capacity declines as phenotypes get closer to maximal capacity. In the final session sponsored by SEB entitled “Improving risk assessment and recovery of threatened species through  consideration of physiological mechanisms” run by Steven Cooke and Christine Madliger, how physiological measurements can aid conservation efforts was highlighted. A variety of species were discussed in this very relevant and informative symposium including birds, fish and turtles. Grant Gilchrist presented worrying evidence that due to climate change and melting of ice polar bears are now threatening eider duck populations. Using physiological approaches Grant was discovering how vulnerable these eider populations were in the rapidly changing environment of the Arctic. The take home message from all of the presentations was climate drive change is a real threat to our environment and if we want to protect species we need to act. ICCPB was a wonderful conference and I salute the organisers, Charles Darveau and colleagues, for providing such a thrilling and fascinating meeting on comparative animal physiology and biochemistry.

Author: Dr Lynne U. Sneddon
Category: Animal Biology