August 12, 2008

A Last Excellent Day at MSA

Today was my last day at the MSA conference. There's still one more day left, but for a variety of reasons I have to get up early tomorrow and make the long drive back to Worcester. Not the least of these is the fact that a petty, bureaucratic,politically-motivated dean at Florida State University has taken it upon himself to put up a massive and ridiculous roadblock in the way of LL's quest for a PhD. I won't get into the details; she'll write about it when and if she's ready. All I'll say is that I've never heard of such a moronic, pig-headed thing being done to someone who has been one of the few bright lights for a department that is now being dissolved largely because of the incompetence of another pig-headed bureaucrat in academic clothing. With people like these deans at the helm, I would have to advise anyone considering a PhD program at Florida State to put it as low on their list of possibilities as they can possibly can. If it were a boat, it would have the word "Titanic" painted at the prow.

Other than learning of LL being screwed over yet again, though, today was the kind of day that makes me regret having to leave a day early. Two lablings gave excellent presentations on their research as did my advisor. I take a good deal of pride in being part of this group even if I haven't begun contributing as much as I hope to... soon.

I had lunch today with Joey Spatafora and my advisor and so had the chance to listen in and/or talk about everything from plans for AFTOL2 to Wall-E and The Fantastic Planet. I learned that Joey reads this blog when he recognized me upon our introduction as Mike O'Risal. So did one of the postdocs from his lab. In fact, no fewer than four people I met today already knew me by my nom d'blog. I had best be careful not to mention my rampant crack addiction and penchant for devouring live kittens here. Someone might be looking.

Today was also the day of the Karling Lecture, delivered by Nick Talbot of the University of Exeter. The topic was "Investigating the biology of plant infection by the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe grisea using functional genomics." The rice blast fungus is a problem right up there with the potential of Puccinia graminis Ug99, wiping out up to 30% of the world's rice crops in any given year. Dr. Talbot's work on the mechanisms by which the fungus initiates and spreads infection seems to hold tremendous promise in addressing the problem. Some of the proteomics involved are well beyond the scope of my understanding; I'm not a proteins person by any stretch. Still, even I can grasp that if one can come to an understanding of how the subcellular mechanics of infection work, there's real hope of coming up with a solution.

After the Karling lecture, I met up with Meredith Blackwell and handed her three dead beetles. That might be perceived as an insult in some circles, but not in this one. I'll be sending some live specimens her way in the near future, too, and hopefully we'll be able to exchange some data and materials. I'm particularly looking forward to continued contact with the people I've met from her lab. Even though I don't think I'll be part of the next round of AFTOL research, others in my lab will be and her lab will also be involved, and we're all working on bugs and fungus in one way or another.

I had dinner at a little Indian place called Kaarma just around the corner from my hotel. I was joined by labling RiGa, Dan Durall from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and Kentaro Hosaka from the National Museum of Nature and Science of Japan. It was a very nice cap to what has been an inspiring few days for me. If you should find yourself in State College, PA, I recommend checking out Kaarma.

I have indeed come away from this conference feeling inspired. I've got some new ideas and am itching to try them out, particularly when I get back from Florida laden with new specimens. Stephanie Gross and I talked today about there being a coleoptera/fungi symbiosis session at next year's MSA meeting. There are a bunch of us out there, and all we need to do is be in the same place at the same time with material to present. The place next year will be Snowbird in Utah and the time will be July 25-30, 2009. Now all I need is the material.

I'll get back to work on that on Thursday.

For now, my priorities are sleep and then the long drive back to Worcester. Sequences await.

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