Wednesday, 27 July 2011

International Botanical Congress in Melbourne all a twitter



Half way through the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne it's time to draw breath. The pace has been cracking, particularly with hands on Twitter, eyes on the speaker and mind on running the Congress.
Some background first. The International Botanical Congress is held every six years and attracts botanists from around the world to discuss the latest developments in plant science. The previous congress was held in Vienna, Austria, in 2005, and the next will be held in China in 2017. 

The 2011 Melbourne congress is the second to be held in Australia. I attended the first, in Sydney in 1981, and one other, in St Louis in 1999.

This time I was invited to chair the Scientific Committee, which was nice. I also very kindly got a job in London which meant I left the preparations mid stream, handing over to the more than capable Anna Koltunow. We appear as co-chairs on the program, which is also very nice.

The sum of my involvement in the congress is as co-chair of the Scientific Committee, member of the Organising Committee, chair of one General Symposium on Friday and virtual chair of a ‘rapid fire’ student poster session. The virtual chair is a role you put your hand up for but then do not turn up for. Actually I do have an excuse but let's just say Anna stepped in again - thanks!




The conference runs all week, through to Saturday morning, so there is plenty more to come. If you want a slightly disjointed, idiosyncratic but often entertaining version of the conference you should tune in to #ibc18 on Twitter. If that's a bit daunting, try a few of the daily summaries at Storify - I don't know how this works but its good magic. 


Oh, and when I landed in Melbourne I got the news about Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France cycling race. He's just come second in the time trial and...you know the rest. Luckily Lynda (wife) and Emily (daughter) had brought me back a gift from Paris a few days before I flew out. That gift I wore on Sunday at the Congress:




And I haven't mentioned coffee at all yet. As I tweeted one day in, I'm thinking of reviewing the ranking of my three favourite coffee places in the world. They are currently: Italy, Melbourne and Sydney. Three great coffees from three different Caf├ęs in the lane-ways of Melbourne are putting pressure on the first spot...  




But to finish with a little botany. In addition to tweeting, I've been taking notes in OneNote, and here is my summary of the pick of the talks so far (and do take a look at the videos on the website!):


Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz (Plant modelling): Branching the one of most conspicuous feature of plants - how does such complexity come about? Models help us understand complex situations such as branching. Starts with S. Ulam (1962) model. If enough space, grow. If not enough space, don't grow. Plant architecture guided by where are buds (phyllotaxis and internode elongation), what they do (i.e. fate of each) and further actions (e.g. reorientation and shedding). Phyllotaxis: e.g. sunflower seed packing in consecutive numbers of Fibonacci Series. Also the 'golden angle' of 137.5 degrees in flowers arising in e.g. Arabidopsis. Are these two things related? Hofmeister's model: primordia emergence converges to golden angle. High concentrations of auxins in places where primordia will appear. Inhibitory effect of primordia due to withdrawal of auxin. Divergence angles consistent with data. The fate of a bud: can be dormant (abort) or active (flower or shoot). Comparing cyme and raceme. Key question is identity of the lateral bud: will it be persistent or transient? Citing one of my heroes, Halle! Creates a  very life-like model of a tree but one fairly standard looking tree. Begs the question: why so many different looking trees? Buds act as sources and destinations of signals. Quality of light received by different parts important. Different kinds of tropism important.  Website www.algorithmicbotany.org (also see current @AnnBot http://bit.ly/qiG3n2) - to be made open access…  We are not yet at complexity of the 'Tree of Tule' but within reach. Development = hierarchy of self-organizing processes.



Images: Melbourne from 'my apartment' near the Melbourne Convention Centre. The MCC (and see arrow) is where the Congress was held.  

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