Friday, May 23, 2008

Lederberg Workshop Rest of the Story

When I left off in my notes the first day of the workshop was basically ending. After the session ended, the speakers and the members of the Institute of Medicine Forum on Microbial Threats went out to dinner at a restaurant in Cleveland Park. A few of us walked over to the Metro together and talked along the way. Thankfully, I did not get lost, as (1) I grew up in the DC area (2) I worked around the corner from where the workshop was held for a summer 20 years ago and (3) Julian Parkhill from the Sanger Center was with us and I had sadly gotten very disoriented with him when I was at a NIH Human Microbiome meeting in Bethesda which is actually where I grew up.

The dinner was quite good and I had some good conversations with various folks about microbes and their lives as well as about science in general. Sometimes these types of events are a bit much for me but for whatever reason the whole dinner event was very pleasant. And this was despite the fact that I still had not even started working on my talk for the next day. Finally, as some people were getting coffee Stanley Cohen and a few others said they wanted to head back to the hotel so a gaggle of us left, and went back.

I then spent a few hours making an outline of my talk and finding some slides and worrying about what I was going to say. I was going to be the last talk of the meeting -- in essence wrapping things up. Normally I do not get stressed about such things but here I was at this workshop in honor of one of the greatest biologists of the 20th century. And many scientist's I really really respect were to be in the audience. To give those who know an idea of how big a deal I thought this workshop was - I wore a suit for both days of the meeting. Now, I have not worn a suit in probably two years. But it just seemed natural to do it here. Anyway, with all of these things together it was a big deal to me to give the closing talk of the workshop.

And so I slept very little piecing together a talk that I hoped would honor Lederberg and make people glad they stayed until the end. On a side note, I never met Lederberg. But I was trained in microbiology by one of his students - Ann Ganesan who worked as a Senior Scientist in Phil Hanawalt's lab where I did my PhD. Ann was amazing -- the grand guru of microbiology and I learned a great deal from her. And thus I felt a connection to Lederberg even if I did not know him.

And finally, after very little sleep, I headed out for day 2 of the workshop. And day 2 was as good or better than day 1. There was Stanley Cohen talking about Lederberg and plasmids, Julian Davies (one of my all time favorite speakers) discussing antibiotic resistance, Jo Handelsman talking about functional metagenomics and microbial commensals in insects, Steven S. Morse talking about emerging diseases, Peter Daszak from the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, Mark Woolhouse talking about the ecology of human pathogens, and then me. All of the talks before me were quite excellent. Thoughtful. Insightful. Entertaining. (I do not think I have ever been at a meeting like this - I normally cannot sit through more than a few talks in a day). Lederberg would have been proud.

And then me. I think I did a good job with the wrap up. A lot of the talks for the day had been about how we can use an understanding of the past to help predict the future. And I talked about the original of novelty and how understanding how new functions originate can certainly help us understand the present (e.g., analyzing genome sequences) and I tried to bring in examples from all the other talks at the meeting (ahh .. one of those times where having my laptop and modifying my slides during the day was a good thing).

And then there was a brief discussion session where some really good questions/suggestions came up and then it was over. But I did come back inspired. Lederberg was such an incredible scientist and person. His legacy hopefully lives on.


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  2. you? stressed? no sleep?

    Thanks for blogging from this interesting meeting. I like the immediacy of it. I almost feel as if I were at dinner with you and Stan. I would have liked to hear the talks. Can you post a link?

    Did you see the story on the blogger Emily in the NYT magazine yesterday?

    I rather be a science blogger than a gawker...

  3. Yeah, I saw the NY Times magazine story. It did make science blogging seem much less icky than overly personal forms of blogging. But sometimes I probably cross the line --- like when I admitted all that brain doping.

    I am not sure the Lederberg workshop talks will be made available online. They did record the talks but I think that was not for web release. I will try to find out.