Travel Grants to Go

30 November 2019 - By: SEB

Travel Grants to Go

Andres Romanowski (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Andre’s used his Company of Biologists travel grant to travel to The International Symposium on Plant Photobiology Barcelona, Spain where he got the invaluable opportunity to network with leaders in his field.

The conference's focus was on light sensing/signalling in plants and the green lineage. Light is a key resource for plants, as it drives photosynthesis. Because of this, light environmental information if of great importance to plants. So, to gain information about their light environment plants have evolved different photoreceptors that cover the whole light spectrum (including UV and far red light). The International Symposium on Plant Photobiology (ISPP) revolves around plant light perception and the developmental adaptations that result from it. The ISPP gathers the world leading experts on this subject and this year's edition was not the exception: Prof. Peter Quail (UC Berkely, USA) the founding father of one of the schools of thought on this field, opened the Symposium with great new insights from his lab. Other great names in the field also gave great talks, like Jorge Casal (Leloir, BA, Argentina), Meng Chen (UC Riverside, CA, USA), John Christie (University of Glasgow, UK), Kerry Franklin (University of Bristol, UK), Karen Halliday (University of Edinburgh, UK), Akira Nagatani (University of Kyoto, Japan), Salomé Prat (CNB, Madrid, Spain), and many others. We also had talks from amazing postdocs, 5-minute flash talks and poster sessions (every day!). I have to point out, that gender balance and sustainability were very well addressed in this Symposium. The environment was great for the exchange of ideas and allowed for easy interaction between the attendees.

The meeting was a great opportunity to get to know (and get to be known by) key researchers on this field of science. Fruitful discussions were abundant, and this will likely improve the level of the publications derived from my project on leaf development and will also spark some interactions / collaborations with other groups that are working on related subjects.

Also, during this symposium, I participated on an outreach event to talk to high school students about science and how to become a scientist. It was in a TV interview format, where the students asked people form the field general questions about science and about plant photobiology.

One of the most interesting personalities I met was Prof. Peter Quail, during this symposium he announced his retirement. Nevertheless, he was quite enthusiastic about the current science being done and spoke with all the young people that attended the conference. His strength and curiosity are admirable, and he is quite the role model to look up to.

I was able to attend an ex-Quail lab member’s dinner as a guest and interacted with different generations of people that had started out in his lab. It was filled with stories from their time at his lab. There was also a very memorable speech given by Prof. Quail himself, about his expectations for the future of the Plant Photobiology Community and his happiness about how the community is growing. This was a great experience and opportunity to get to know key scientists of the field and interact with them in a more relaxed environment.


Bruna Marques dos Santos (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

Bruna used her travel grant to attend the Gordon Research Seminar ‘CO2 Assimilation in Plants from Genome to Biome’ where she gave an oral presentation.

The Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) and Conference (GRC) ‘CO2 Assimilation in Plants from Genome to Biome’, are among the most critical forums for bringing together the top plant scientists in the world, to share and discuss the critical advances and challenges on the carbon aspects of photosynthesis, presenting cutting-edge, often unpublished research. The keynote speakers were Professor Susanne von Caemmerer from the Australian National University and Professor Stephen Long from the University of Illinois, both distinguished scientists in the photosynthesis field. My talk during the GRS was the most important part of the conference for me. It was a big challenge to prepare a presentation and face such a qualified audience, but I definitely enjoyed the experience and got extremely positive feedback and interesting inputs that made me more prepared for my future talks and specially my for my PhD defence that will take place later this year, in October.

I have learned how to present my results with impact and how to handle questions and suggestions. It was my first time giving an oral presentation in an international conference, therefore an invaluable experience that have boosted my confidence to talk about my research. I have also learned that I can extract more information from my gas exchange measurements using Li-cor equipment. Professor Thomas Sharkey suggested me a simple way to calculate the carbon flux from my dataset that will definitely improve my results. I have learned which research groups are leading the area that I am interested in pursuing a postdoc and during the conference I had the chance to talk to them. Therefore, in the near future I will have the advantage of using these connections to look for a new job.

The seminar started with a talk from Professor Susanne von Caemmerer from the Australian National University. She was exclusively available for us (young scientists) during the first day of the conference and it was an amazing opportunity to talk with such prominent scientist in the photosynthesis field. During the poster section of the Gordon Research Conference, Professor Thomas D. Sharkey from Michigan State University visited my poster, I had the unique chance to discuss my results with the biggest expert in isoprene emission from plants. It was the most invaluable connection I have made during the conference, especially because he will probably be the reviewer of my paper when it is submitted, this was a great opportunity to be able to discuss the results in advance and get input from the expert.


Danielle Ingle (Florida Atlantic University, USA)

Danielle used her travel grant to attend Tomography for Scientific Advancement North America 2019 (ToScA) where gathered valuable insights to assist her in a new role.

 The highlight of the conference was networking with professionals in the field and gaining knowledge through asking about their experience and background. This opportunity was pivotal for me since I had just started my position as a micro-CT scanner technician at FAU's A.D. Henderson University School. I felt the weight of responsibility to not only ensure proper care of the equipment, but to facilitate optimal data collection for colleagues and visiting researchers. Exposure to techniques and protocols at ToScA benefited me as I navigated my new position in the weeks following. Another aspect of the conference that I enjoyed was the smaller attendee size (~70 people) which made it easier to interact with others.

I was able to learn about the vast number of applications that computed-tomography can provide. For example, I was unaware that archaeological relics such as pottery have been scanned in museums. One presenter detailed their findings on a scanned child mummy. Overall, attending ToScA provided me with a sense of the future direction of computed tomography. Museums worldwide are launching initiatives to scan all specimens in their facilities, considering size and other constraints. This is important because specimens may not last forever, but creating a digital library is a way to capture the state of the specimen in a moment in time. In addition, it is much more feasible to share digital files worldwide than to physically ship specimens between facilities. One of the most interesting people I met was Dr. Jessie Maisano, who is the TsSca North America Chair and research engineer at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas. She specifically works at the High-Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography Facility (UTCT). Dr. Maisano has contributed a substantial amount to the growing accessibility of scanned specimens through her role in implementing of DigiMorph library. Not only was it an honour    to meet such an accomplished person in the field, but it was also an inspiration to witness her kindness and hospitality to all conference attendees.

A conference dinner was held at the Florida Museum of Natural History. For about an hour before dinner, the conference attendees were able to walk around the exhibits of the museum. Their "Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land" exhibit was extensive and impressive, with a giant ground sloth skeleton and visual displays walking guests through the impact of five extinction events on the flora and fauna of Florida. For dinner we ate in front of the mammoth skeleton: an unforgettable experience. Since the attendees only totalled to about 70 people, this was probably my favourite conference social because the smaller size made it easier to interact with almost everyone. I sat at a table with fellow bone researchers who use micro-CT to image the architecture of the skeleton, and enjoyed being able to compare methods, successes, and pitfalls of this work. Overall this grant gave me a great opportunity to network with and learn from colleagues in my field.


Ana Lopes (University of Porto Portugal)

Ana used her travel grant to attend XV Cell Wall Meeting 2019 in Cambridge where she presented her PhD project.

The Company of Biologists travel grant supported me in the outstanding opportunity to participate in the XV Cell Wall Meeting 2019 (7-12 July), this time in the beautiful city of Cambridge, United Kingdom. I was included in the section of ‘Plant Cell Wall Composition, Structure and Architecture’, with the chance to present my poster “AGPs as target genes in the puzzling signalling cascade od SEEDSTICK”, showing a part of the work that I develop on my PhD project “From ovule to seed development by AGP and CKX SEEDSTICK target genes”. This Cell Wall Meeting covered diverse important issues, from distinct areas, such as plant cell wall composition, structure, architecture and biosynthesis. Other topics covered were: cell biology and dynamics of plant cell wall formation; plant cell walls: growth, morphogenesis, development & biomechanics; cell wall interactions with the environment: microorganisms, signalling and defence; plant and micro-organismal degradation and metabolism of cell walls; cell walls as a resource: food, feed, fuel, timber. The programme flowed between complimentary topics and also gave delagtes the opportunity for some downtime.Visiting Cambridge was an inspirational and peaceful academic moment, with nice and smooth walks every day along the surrounding nature. I learnt a lot from the issues covered, such as plant cell wall composition, structure, architecture and biosynthesis; cell biology and dynamics of plant cell wall formation; plant cell walls: growth, morphogenesis, development & biomechanics; cell wall interactions with the environment: microorganisms, signalling and defence; plant and micro-organismal degradation and metabolism of cell walls; cell walls as a resource: food, feed, fuel, timber. During 7 oral sessions, 87 lectures were made by the most notable researchers and high-quality young scientists. These main topics created the opportunity to merge perfectly 167 posters, presented and discussed during 3 distinct sessions and during meal breaks. Almost all the topics covered during the congress were my topics of interest, but I focused more on the topics related with plant cell wall composition, structure, architecture and biosynthesis; cell biology and dynamics of plant cell wall formation; plant cell walls growth, morphogenesis, development & biomechanics. Under these topics, it was possible to explore more about the molecules affecting pectin structure, tissue softening, cell-to-cell adhesion and cell wall dynamics. Besides, it was also a chance to learn new tools and experimental approaches to address these issues. I could learn more about the regulation of the hormone auxin and its influence in the cell wall composition, processes affecting tissue morphogenesis and cell wall stress responses, the interaction of cytokinins with wall thickening promoting factors and explore more about AGPs and immunolocalization techniques. However, all topics were valuable inputs to deepen my knowledge and skills to pursue my PhD on sexual plant reproduction, as I am starting my ovule and seed development in Arabidopsis thaliana. I would like to highlight the networking opportunities presented during this conference which gave me the possibility to discuss some key topics important for my knowledge. Specifically, the opportunity to meet Dr. Derek Lamport, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex (UK). He even gave us a short and private class on Ca2+ factor and its interacting factors, during a break!

During Wednesday afternoon break, different kinds of activities were planned for the participants and we were able to explore some target spots in Cambridge: our group stepped into King’s College and saw the rooms and facilities that seemed to come from a story book. We also made an unforgettable punting tour experience along the river Cam.

I would not change a second of this extraordinary experience! Thank you for giving me this award and helping me to live it!