Friday, September 29, 2006

Genomics Education highlighted at 14th Annual International Meeting on Microbial Genomics

Just got back from the 14th Annual International Meeting on Microbial Genomics, where I gave talk on microbial symbiont genomics. This was one of the best meetings I have been to in a while. It had the right combination of everything including:
  1. Many excellent talks and posters (OK, in the interest of not upsetting people for not saying their talk or poster was great, I will not make a big list of all the ones I thought were good, but I will give a few highlights below).
  2. Excellent location (UCLAs Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, which is in the mountains east of Los Angeles). This is a place that is very conducive to getting to know colleagues and it almost forces interaction among people. There is one central building where there is a dining hall, a nice deck if you want to eat outside, the conference room, rooms for posters, and a large living room for hanging out. The rooms for sleeping are mostly great (e.g., mine was a split level condo like structure with a living room and a bedroom/bath on floor one and a bedroom/bath on floor 2). And being in the mountains is very pleasant. Plus there is a pool, jacuzzi, and sports facilities that are very nice. The only annoying thing is that the Lake itself, which is 100 yards away, but it really almost private, with most of the shoreline occupied by houses and private docks.
  3. Good food. The food is not spectacular or anything but better than the food at 90% of the conferences I have been at.
In terms of talks, there were quite of few that were both interesting topics and very well presented. For example, Jessica Green from U. C. Merced gave a great talk about spatial distributions of microorganisms, Julian Parkhill from the Sanger Center put together a really nice story about mechanisms by which microbial pathogens generate phenotypic diversity, and Julie Huber from MBL impressed many with her talk about the "Deep Rare Biosphere."

But to me, the best two talks were ones on science education reform by two people from UCLA. Erin Sanders-Lorenz presented a summary of her course she has been teaching at UCLA that has students doing "phylogenomic" analysis which takes them from isolating and culturing organisms from environmental samples to building evolutionary trees of genes isolated from these cultured species.. This seemed like a very creative, hand on, novel way to teach students the excitement of science and some things about evolution. It sounded so well thought out that I asked for (and got) a copy of her lab manual.

Much as I liked this class, the one described by Cheryl Kerfeld knocked my socks off. She described a program they have developed at UCLA called the Undergraduate Genomics Research Initiative. This is an interdepartmental multi-course collaboration with the central theme involving the sequencing and analysis of the genome of a bacterium called Ammonifex degensii. The various courses are organized around a central course on genome sequencing. The linked courses include ones in many different departments at UCLA as well as various courses at other universities. They have clearly given enormous thought to how to do a truly project based course which likely will catch students attention and interest much more than standard lectures or standard labs.

There have been other successful hands on genome sequencing courses before - perhaps the first being one by Brad Goodner at Hiram College who had students participate in the sequencing and analysis of the genome of Agrobacterium tumefaciens (e.g., see a press release here). The Kerfeld UCLA UGRI program sounds like it has gone to the next level by integrating many courses across departments and by having creative ways to encourage participation of students in multiple aspects of the project. It really is worth giving a look at the UCLA UGRI program's web site.

Other tidbits about the meeting:
  • Jeffrey H. Miller from UCLA organized it
  • This is the same Jeffrey Miller who identified most of the mutator genes in E. coli with a really creative genetic screen
  • There was another Jeffrey Miller from UCLA at the meeting (will leave this up to google for people to figure out who this other Miller is).


  1. You should invite this Jonathan Eisen to a meeting you are attending and have him give a talk in your stead. And I can invite Jonathan Badger.

  2. we should organize a conference only with people that have name dounbles ... of course that might exclude people with unusual names, but too bad, they should sick to Jonathan, or something like that


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Hat tip to Mackenzie Smith for pointing this out to me Paywall The Movie Trailer from Paywall The Movie on Vimeo .