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Conference reports


European Organoid Symposium (Milan, Italy) - Hamish Angus, Kemp Lab

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In late September I embarked on a journey to attend the European Organoids Symposium (EOS) in Milan, Italy. EOS is a gathering of the world's leading organoid researchers. Organoid research encompasses a larger range of organoids derived from different types of stem cells from different regions of the body. Brain organoids, liver organoids, lung organoids, cancer organoids, pancreatic organoids, intestinals organoids, all organoids were present and accounted for. 

Organoids are a recently developed technology and are yet to become a mainstream research tool. Consequently, organoid technology in Australasia is few and far between. I work with intestinal organoids as a research tool for the study of human immune cells in Crohn's disease. As such, attending EOS and presenting my data to organoid specialists was paramount to my project and was a confidence boost moving into the final stages of my PhD. 

Although the range of organoid types is diverse, all researchers working with any type of organoid can empathise with the struggles of organoid culture. It was validating to attend the conference to see first-hand how other sceintists working with organoids maintain their sanity and troubleshoot their problems. 

Our work in the Kemp Lab is pushing the boundaries of organoid model techniques. We are one of the few labs attempting to establish an immune cell presence in an organoid monolayer system, and the only lab to do so in the context of Crohn's disease. I was given the privilege of presenting a poster at EOS, which was extremely well received. I was given invaluable feedback and direction, and contacts from Europe and USA that are extremely interested in receiving updates from our research. 

I am extremely thankful for the privilege provided by Otago University and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Attending EOS in Europe was once in a lifetime opportunity and I am sincerely grateful. 

Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Meeting (Madison, Wisconsin, USA) - Aroa Campa, Fineran Lab

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I first visited Cynthia Sharma’s lab, at the University of Würzburg, in Germany. The purpose of my visit was to carry out RIP-seq, a technique that, by co-precipitation of a protein with RNA, allows identification of the RNA targets of RNA-binding proteins. In particular, this experiment will elucidate the exact targets of the regulatory pathway I am studying at the moment and give a better understanding of the results I presented during the conference in Madison. During my visit there I not only learnt a new technique that could potentially be very beneficial to other members of the lab, but also had the chance to present my work at the Institute of Molecular Infection Biology (IMIB), where other scientists, including some people in the CRISPR field, were present and provided interesting and valuable feedback.

During the conference in Madison I had the chance to learn about new findings and very interesting novel techniques about bacterial regulatory pathways, CRISPR and phage biology. During my poster presentation I met very relevant scientists in various fields, including phages and CRISPR, that provided great ideas for my future directions. The meeting had a social schedule that allowed lots of interactions with both professionals in academia as well as in industry which provided excellent guidance for my future career. The social gatherings also allowed meeting other postgraduate students and postdocs, that also gave helpful insights in terms of future plans.

It was overall a very exciting and fruitful experience, both at a personal and professional levels.

The American Society for Virology's 38th annual Meeting (Minnesota, USA) - Henry Galvin, Husain Lab

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The American Society for Virology's 38th annual meeting was held at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, July 20th-24th, 2019. This is one of the biggest virology conferences in the world and many of the worlds most renowned virologist were present.

This was my first international conference and as I was in the final months of my PhD this was the perfect opportunity to present my PhD outcomes to an international community of virologists. Furthermore, it allowed me to network many of the researchers present and to discuss potential post-doc positions overseas. My talk promoted some interesting questions and positive feedback from the audience. Additionally, there were many interesting presentations covering all spheres of virology from structural virology to viral evolution. I also took part in a lunch discussion table with Dr. Katherine Shives where we talked about careers in the biotech industry. This was very valuable experience for me as it highlighted alternative scientific career paths outside of academia. I was also lucky enough to meet with Dr. Prasanth Nagesh, a department alumnus who now works as a post-doc at the New York University Medical School. I paid a visit to his lab and meet with his colleagues which was an extremely enjoyable experience to see first-hand how research is done in the US.

Overall my experience in the US was extremely valuable as I developed my skills as an emerging scientist by presenting my research in international setting. In addition, I was able to meet with many prominent researchers and to see some of the ground-breaking research that is being done all over the world. I am extremely grateful for the department supporting my travels to attend ASV, without which, I would not have been able to attend.

CRISPR 2019 Conference Report (Quebec, Canada) - Nils Birkholz, Fineran Lab

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The Departmental Funding I was awarded was used to travel to CRISPR 2019, a conference which took place in June 2019 in Québec, Canada. For someone with a PhD project about an anti-CRISPR protein, this might sound like a slight contradiction, but it was actually very suiting since the event was organised by researchers who have made ground-breaking discoveries in the anti-CRISPR field. 

The conference was the biggest CRISPR conference to date with approximately 350 attendees. The Fineran group made a disproportionate contribution to this, with half the lab travelling the long way to Canada. At the conference, we had the opportunity for conversations with fellow CRISPR researchers, some of whom we had previously met and others whose names we only knew from their intimating plethora of Nature and Science papers. What they presented, however, was in many cases unpublished data, which highlights one of the many positive aspects to visiting a conference like this.

 As the conference was split into many sessions covering the various aspects of CRISPR biology, we obtained a broad overview of the current state of the field. Given the expertise of the conference organisers, I was not surprised but nonetheless pleased to see a whole session devoted to anti-CRISPRs, with the topic also coming up frequently in talks of other sessions. Unsurprisingly, I therefore particularly enjoyed the talks about CRISPR inhibitors by Jennifer Doudna and about the work on archaeal anti-CRISPRs by Xu Peng’s lab in Copenhagen. These and other talks were also highly stimulating for my own PhD project. 

As a PhD student, I did not get to present my research in a talk but had some lively discussions (and a few glasses of wine) during one of the two poster sessions. More even than the talks, these conversations got me thinking about my own project, as visitors kept asking interesting questions that are definitely worth investigating further. Likewise, it was a great opportunity to see what other PhD students are working on that might not be reflected in the publications list of their lab.

In addition to the scientific gain, the conference also provided lots of opportunity for socialisation, such as a morning ‘CRISPR fun run’ (which was slightly overshadowed by the after-effects of the wine), a closing dinner with an open bar, and strolls through the beautiful old town of Québec. This socialising was an invaluable way to make connections with students from other labs, thus helping to broaden my research network. All in all, it was a great trip to Canada, which I am sure I will profit from through the many new experiences and contacts made, and therefore I am very grateful to the Department for the funding that enabled my participation.

American Society for Microbiology and the Gordon Research Conference: Tuberculosis drug discovery and development (San Francisco, USA & Barcelona, Spain)  - Zoe Williams, Cook Lab



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In late June, I attended the American Society for Microbiology annual conference in San Francisco from June 20th- 24th. The sessions were extremely broad, encompassing themes of ecology, evolution and biodiversity to clinical infections and vaccines. My favourite sessions were the career and professional development workshops where they had early-career scientists from a variety of careers talk about their experiences and things they wish they had known. I also really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Pat Brown who spoke about his experiences leaving Stanford and starting his business, Impossible foods. I was able to meet a lot of new contacts in the pharmaceutical industry and present my research to an internal audience.

In early July, I attended the GRC TB drug discovery and development meeting in Barcelona. This conference gathers the experts in the field and centres around how to discover new drugs and shorten treatment time for tuberculosis patients. As I am currently writing my thesis on terminal oxidases as targets for the development of new inhibitors, this conference was the perfect place to present my work and look for potential jobs. The conference had a variety of sessions which ranged from challenges posed by TB relative to other infectious diseases, how drug and target properties relate to efficacy in different models, and how these features might inform clinical trials. Overall, the conference covered the latest discoveries in the field from academia, industry, government and non-governmental organizations and the quality of research presented were outstanding.

Attending this meeting was of great value to my research and would not have been possible without the financial aid of the department. Overall, this was a great experience and an amazing way to finish my PhD at the University of Otago. I made some valuable new contacts, presented my research to an international audience and have a better understanding of how important my research is.

CRISPR meeting (Quebec, Canada)  - Lucia Malone, Fineran Lab

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A couple of week ago I attended the “CRISPR meeting” in Quebec. This conference gathers all the experts in the field and centres on the biological function of CRISPR-Cas systems. As my PhD project focus on how CRISPR-Cas systems respond to different phage infections, this conference was the perfect place to present my work.

The conference had a variety of sessions which ranged from basic research of CRISPR-Cas systems (“Adaptation” and “Interference”), to novel CRISPR-based applications. One of my favourite sessions was “other bacterial immunity systems”, where the speakers introduced newly discovered bacterial defence systems and their mechanisms to arrest phage infection. Overall, the conference covered the latest discoveries in the field and the quality of research presented was outstanding.

Currently, I am halfway through my third (and last) year of PhD. The CRISPR meeting was a great opportunity to present my work to a highly specialized audience and receive feedback from renowned scientists in the field. Moreover, I had the opportunity to exchange ideas with other PhD students and benefited from talking about our personal experiences in different laboratories. Moreover, this was a perfect place were to talk to lab supervisors and stablish new connections which will be beneficial at the time of looking for a postdoc position.

Attending to this meeting was of unmeasurable value to my research which would not have been possible without the financial aid of the Department.

Overall, this was a wholesome experience, that helped me get new ideas to develop my project and make new contacts that will help me in my future career. I came back from this trip with a better understanding of the importance of my research and renewed energies to face the last stage of my PhD.


15th International Symposium on Milk Genomics and Human Health

Sacramento, California, USA - Simon Shirley (Kemp Lab)

This conference was well organised and set up with a welcoming and friendly environment, which fostered conversation and made discourse with other attendees easy.

My poster presentation was well received. I received much encouragement on publishing my work with people wanting to read and cite it. Particularly, Professor Maria Marco of UC Davis, who I spoke with frequently throughout the conference on milks potential effects on the immune system.

The conference was of significant value to myself. It allowed me to gauge interest in the work I have been undertaking during my PhD and to meet people who are interested in the published work. Additionally, the conference allowed me to see some of the latest work in some of the areas that my research team and I work in, and meet researchers from all over the globe who are undertaking this work.

Overall, I consider my attendance at the conference very worthwhile and the purpose with which I went to the conference, getting feedback on my work, achieved.

In addition to my attendance at the conference, I visited Professor Steven Reiner at Columbia University, New York. Here I had the opportunity to discuss my work with him and potential post-doctoral opportunities in his lab. This meeting further allowed me to gain additional contacts at Columbia University such as Dr Tony Huang. Overall, this was very valuable meeting.  

CRISPR Conference

Vilnius, Lithuania - Hannah Hampton (Fineran Lab)

The annual “CRISPR” conference was held in Vilnius, Lithuania from June 20-23rd 2018. The program included a number of well-known and highly regarded speakers from the CRISPR and bacterial defence fields. This was the largest CRISPR conference to date with 250 participants, six of whom were from the Fineran Lab. All sessions included talks that were highly relevant to the work I am currently undertaking, and the “Beyond CRISPR” session was particularly enjoyable as it provided links between large portions of my PhD work and my new Post-Doc project.

I was fortunate to be able to present a poster titled “Quorum sensing regulates both innate and adaptive immune systems” that summarized findings from the third year of my PhD, and will help shape some of the initial work of my Post Doc. My poster was positively received, with a lot of interest from both students and principal investigators. Discussions about the data presented on my poster were beneficial and will help shape the final experiments to get this body of research ready for publication. The experience of CRISPR 2018 was invaluable, as it gave me a lot of insight into current gaps in my work and novel ideas to help make my research have an even greater impact.

I would like to thank the Department of Microbiology and Immunology for the financial support to attend this conference. This trip has been of great benefit, and I gained a lot of inspiration for my future in the CRISPR field.

Lithuania Hannah Hampton conference report

International Congress of Immunology

Melbourne, Australia - Pia Steigler (Kirman Lab)

I was pleased to receive the Microbiology and Immunology PhD travel award to attend the International Congress of Immunology (ICI) and to visit laboratories in Cape Town, South Africa.

The International Congress of Immunology (ICI) is the largest global event in Immunology that is held every three year. ICI 2016 was held in Melbourne, Australia and brought around 4000 immunologists from all around the globe together. Great speakers such as Ronald Germain or Charles Surh presented fascinating new data about T cell biology.

The conference was a great platform for me to get to know new researchers such as Patricia Darrah from the National health Institute (USA), who offered to provide a critical review my opinion article that I am writing. In addition, ‘old’ existing contacts were refreshed and new research findings discussed.

The presentation of my results from my PhD during a poster session received a great response. A lot of interest was shown to my new finding that innate lymphoid cells (ILC) response to mycobacterial vaccination. I received valuable comments from other researchers focusing on the first recently discovered ILC subsets and was introduced to their work and challenges they have in ILC analysis.

In South Africa, I had the opportunity to present my research of my PhD at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town. The presentation led to a great exchange of information comparing results of my work received in mouse models with the work conducted in Cape Town on human samples. Moreover, I had personal meetings with some of the leading TB scientist in Cape Town such as Gerhard Walzl, Katalin Wilkinson, Thomas Scriba as well as newcomer Claire Hoving to discuses their recent projects and latest findings as well as to receive valuable comments on my work. The greatest experience was the visit of the clinical field site of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) in Worchester with Thomas Scriba. I was introduced to the process of volunteer recruitment, sample processing and standard operating procedures.

Thanks to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology for supporting my conference attendance and the laboratory visits. Besides being updated about the latest research in the immunology field, the conference attendance led to new connections with immunologists from all around the globe. Resulting from my laboratory visits in South Africa, I received three offers for postdoctoral positions, one of which I have accepted. I am happy to be able to continue TB research at the coalface of TB in excellent research facilities.

European Bioenergetics Conference

Riva del Garda, Italy - Kiel Hards (Cook Lab)

The European Bioenergetics Conference 2016 (EBEC2016) was an extremely valuable meeting, which resulted in not only the formation of new partnerships for my own research; but also helped bring back knowledge to guide research direction in all Cook Laboratory projects. The conference was host to an extremely diverse group of ~500 delegates, covering applied and fundamental research in all domains of life. Experts from all sub-disciplines of bioenergetics gave seminars, most notably the opening lecture was given by Prof. Peter Rich: who had directly worked with Prof. Peter Mitchell, the Nobel laurate who devised Mitchell’s Chemiosmotic Theory (the central tenet of bioenergetics). My poster was well received and visited by several experts with decades of experience, Dr. Elena Maklashina for example, and has helped create several new avenues for research direction my own work. An abstract of this poster was published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Bioenergetics ( Furthermore, the conference served as an opportunity to solidify international links to New Zealand research. The applicant is now able to pursue collaborations with Noji Laboratory (University of Tokyo; Dr. Duncan McMillan) that would not have been foreseeable prior to conference attendance. I am grateful for being given the opportunity to attend this meeting and achieve significant strides in both academic and professional development.

Riva del GardaRiva del Garda 2

ASM Meeting of Streptococcal Genetics

Washington DC, USA - Rachel Darnell (Cook Lab)

I presented a poster titled: Unravelling the bacitracin response network in Enterococcus faecalis at the 8th Annual ASM Conference on Streptococcal Genetics. The conference was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC from the 31stof July-3rd of August. The focus of the conference was Streptococcal genetics, however talks and posters on related species Enterococcus and Lactococcus were also included.

The opening keynote talk was by Professor Michael Gilmore. Professor Gilmore is an expert in the Enterococcal field. He provided interesting insight into the evolution of the Enterococcal species, and how their characteristic hardiness and intrinsic resistance to many antibiotics evolved alongside the explosion of terrestrial vertebrates. Another interesting poster was presented by a former Post-Doc of Professor Gilmore’s, Dr Kelli Palmer. Dr Palmer has set up her own lab at the University of Texas, Dallas and is interested in antibiotic resistance in Enterococci and the promotion of antibiotic resistance in Enterococci due to their loss of an innate immune system. During the course of the conference I talked with both Professor Gilmore, and Dr Palmer. Both were very interested in the research I am carrying out for my PhD and provided good feedback on my current results and possible future experiments.

The majority of my lab group work on Mycobacteria, a species of bacteria which is quite different from Enterococci, and there is not always a great crossover of tips and techniques. It was of great benefit to me to meet others who carry out research on the same or very similar species as I was provided with insider tips and tricks which don’t always get published, and new techniques which may be useful for my current project, or in future projects.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Washington DC and look forward to seeing future works by the people I talked and heard talk at this conference, as I begin to explore options for Post-Doctoral positions following the conclusion of my PhD. 

European Bioenergetics Conference

Riva del Garda, Italy - Jessica Petri (Cook Lab)

I had the pleasure to attend and to present my research at the biannual European Bioenergetics Conference (EBEC) held in Riva del Garda, Italy in July 2016. Furthermore, I was able to visit the laboratory of Prof. Sir John E. Walker at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge, UK.

The EBEC was attended by leading scientists in the field of bioenergetics presenting exceptional research and their latest findings. For my research the most valuable sessions covered new results regarding the ATP synthase from mitochondria and bacteria. Some of the most interesting presentations focused on the structure of the whole F-type ATP synthase and the latest results on dimerisation of this enzyme in mitochondria.

I was given the opportunity to present my latest results during the poster session. The research community was very well interested in my poster entitled “Heterologous expression, characterisation and structural analysis of Fusobacterium nucleatum F1-ATPase”. The scientific discussions during the poster sessions led to helpful advice and new experimental ideas.

Finally, I was able to visit the laboratory of Prof. Sir John E. Walker to finalise the structural analysis of the F1-ATPase from F. nucleatum. During my stay at the MRC in Cambridge, I also presented the latest findings of my PhD thesis to the Walker laboratory and got valuable feedback for further work.

I would like to thank the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Division of Health Sciences of the University of Otago and the Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Trust for awarding me a travel grant-in-aid to assist with the costs of my travel to attend the EBEC 2016 and to visit the Walker laboratory.

The American Society for Virology, 35th annual meeting 

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA - Prashanth Thevkar Nagesh (Husain Lab)

The American Society for Virology's 35th annual meeting was held at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA, June 18-22nd, 2016. I was excited to participate in this conference as this was my first experience to attend an international conference as a PhD student and got an opportunity to learn about the current research and the recent advances in virus-host interaction. The conference offered an opportunity to virologists working on different types of viruses to come onto one platform and share their research and experience among all. I had a successful oral presentation at the meeting and was glad that many scientists appreciated my work. There were a few interesting questions and suggestions after my talk. Specifically, Professor Wendey Barclay and Professor Andrew Mehle, eminent influenza virologists, gave very positive feedback about my talk and the work. I also participated in a lunch discussion table with Professor Mehle, who shared his experiences in his research career and also gave some insights into building a scientific career. The evening social was a great place to meet people, and I had very interesting discussions about the projects and also got few insights into new techniques which we can develop in our lab. The event was a sound investment of my time and resources resulting in both tangible personal and professional benefits. 

It was a wonderful event and without a doubt it was an invaluable experience to attend the conference. I truly believe that my participation has helped me to get exposure to new areas and advancements in the field of virology research in general and virus-host interaction, in specific. It also served as a platform to build new contacts with people of my field. 

I am thankful to the department for supporting my travel with the grant-in-aid to attend the ASV meeting and participate in this highly relevant conference. 

Regulating with RNA in Bacteria and Archaea

Cancun, Mexico – Bridget Watson (Fineran Lab)

The fourth “Regulating with RNA in Bacterial and Archaea” conference was held in Cancun, Mexico, from 5-8 December 2015. I was excited to attend this conference as the program included speakers presenting the latest findings in the fields of my main research interests, CRISPR-Cas and toxin-antitoxin systems. It also marked my first international conference, which was an enjoyable way to end the first year of my PhD.

The list of highly regarded invited and plenary speakers presented excellent, polished talks on recently, or unpublished data, demonstrating the fast moving pace of the regulatory RNA fields. Topics covered included regulatory RNAs, their associated proteins including Hfq, riboswitches, regulating translation as well as CRISPR-Cas and toxin-antitoxins.

I presented a poster detailing some of my recent work looking at the ability of CRISPR-Cas to control horizontal gene transfer in the Type I-F CRISPR-Cas system in Pectobacterium atrosepticum. I enjoyed the opportunity to share my work with academics and students who are working on similar projects as it stimulated some interesting discussions. It was satisfying when the audience was able to grasp the narrative of my poster and the experience provided some perspective on my results and project. My poster was apparently very well received as I was honoured with the overall best poster prize!  

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and benefitted from attending. I would like to thank the Department of Microbiology and Immunology for supporting me financially to make this possible.

bridget award

The American Society for Virology, 34th Annual Meeting

University of Western Ontario, London, Canada – Colin Davies (Ward Lab)

Presentation title: “Murine Norovirus replication inhibits proliferation of cells at the G1/S restriction point” 

The American Society for Virology conference brought together some the leading world virologist to speak about recent research in a variety of fields related to viruses. The conference was structured into three workshops a day with the morning sessions on new areas of research and the afternoon and evening broken up into eight topics that ran simultaneously. It allowed participants to view the most interesting talks from the bigger name scientists in the morning then attend areas in your own research or topics of interest in the afternoon and night sessions. A social tent provided an area to mingle and talk to fellow scientists outside of sessions and was useful in approaching researchers after their presentations. They also held lunch discussion groups for those interested in the various topics. I attended a lunch group on ‘finding the right postdoc’, directed at postdoctoral fellowship opportunities in the US. It was interesting to learn about the different funding bodies available in the US and again reinforced the important things to take into account when applying for a job in the sciences. I presented my oral in the workshops of Caliciviruses and Astroviruses and I feel it was well received. The questions I could answer and were related to the work I didn’t present, so it was good to hear we had continued down the right track and were on target for a second publication. Attending were some of the leading scientists in the Norovirus field. I even had the opportunity to talk to a few at the poster and social evenings including Stephanie Karst who wanted to use a technique I had developed to increase viral replication in a closely related virus and took my email. The conference provided an excess of information especially in my field of norovirus and I have gained valuable knowledge in areas that I find interesting. This will help me decide what area I would like to find a job in and what to look for in a research group and supervisor.

University of Western Ontario Colin Davies

Keystone symposia, Tumour Immunology

Banff, Canada – Edward Taylor

At the beginning of February I travelled to Banff to attend the Keystone Tumour Immunology conference. The conference was held at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which is closer to resembling a castle than a hotel but was a fantastic venue for a phenomenal conference.

The conference had around 800 attendees and was attended by the top tumour immunologists in the world, many presenting data from their latest clinical trials. Most of the presentations focused on the checkpoint inhibitors or tumour infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy and it was exciting seeing immunology research being put into action and helping patients in the clinic. I presented a poster and received a lot of positive feedback and advice from other researcher doing similar research, which has set me up well for finishing my PhD this year.

After the conference I visited several labs in Vancouver and Toronto, the highlight was visiting Pam Ohashi lab in Toronto. They are the first lab in Canada to begin TIL therapy in patients and do a fantastic combination of mouse and human tumour immunology research.

Thank you to the Microbiology and Immunology department for providing part of the travel funds needed to undertake this trip.

International Congress Of Immunology

Milan, Italy - Andy Highton 

I travelled to the International Congress of Immunology (ICI) near the end of August. This meeting is held once every three years and is one of the largest organised gatherings of immunologists. This year was no exception, with over 5300 scientists attending. Such a large meeting attracts a variety of people, including many experts, working across a wide range of immunological fields.

The sheer size of the meeting and calibre of scientific research was intimidating at times, however this was also a strength. Conferences are all about cutting edge research and ICI did not disappoint.

I was given the opportunity to present my research during one of the poster sessions. Several people were very interested in it and we swapped details. I was also happy to receive many suggestions regarding my work.

Following ICI, I visited the labs of Fiona Powrie, Andrew Cope, Benedict Seddon and Paul Klenerman in London and Oxford. At each of these labs I had a chance to present my work and talk to students and post-docs. I received advice for several techniques I use and met some great people.

I found my trip extremely rewarding and am grateful for the grant-in-aid provided to enable me to travel. I now feel more confident in my work and look forward to future collaborations and job prospects with the immunologists I met along the way.

Bioenergetics: Molecular Mechanisms and Fundamental Principles to Cellular Energentics in Health and Disease (Gordon Research Conferences)

Andover, NH, United States - Marina Iglesias Cans 

Thanks to the Division of Health Sciences and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, in June, I had the opportunity of attending and presenting my research at the biannual conference “Bioenergetics: Molecular mechanisms and fundamental principles to cellular energetics in health and disease” (Gordon Research Conferences) held in Proctor Academy in Andover, NH, United States.

The conference brought together scientists interested in molecular aspects of energy converting processes in prokaryotes and mitochondria, and it was the ideal environment to stimulate exchange of ideas between investigators interested in Bioenergetics from a broad range of scientific disciplines; including the high resolution structures of macromolecules, enzymatic and ion translocation mechanisms, the regulation of metabolic rates, mitochondrial morphology and mitochondrial disease processes with special interest in structure, function and regulation of the membrane integral multiprotein complexes of biological energy conversion.

I am undertaking a PhD in the Cook lab in the physiological role of the AtpI and AtpE in F-type ATP synthases in bacteria. At the conference, I presented a poster entitled “Molecular Analysis of Escherichia coli AtpI Deletion Mutants Reveals Changes in Gene Expression and Carbon Flux”. The poster was well received and the comments and feedback from the attendees was very positive and extremely useful. The conference provided a great opportunity to discuss future directions of the project and other aspects that need to be addressed in my area of research. One highlight of the conference was the chance to meet the members of our collaborator´s research groups in Frankfurt, Dr. Thomas Meier and Dr. Jose Faraldo Gómez and discussed with them our work and future project perspectives. Part of my PhD research was also presented by Sarah Schulz from Dr. Thomas Meier group on the poster entitled “A New Type of Na+-Driven ATP Synthase Membrane Rotor with a Two-Carboxylate Ion-Coupling Motif” work that was published in June 2013.

Overall, contributing something of significance to the bioenergetics field and representing Otago internationally was a great experience.

2013 Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages

Madison, WI, USA, Ron DY 

Many thanks to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Division of Health Sciences from the University of Otago for supporting me to attend and present my research at the annual Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phage conference held in University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.

Attending the conference was an invaluable opportunity for me to update myself and learn new aspects of molecular microbiology. One of the many exceptional presentations was the keynote talk from Professor Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University, a highly distinguished and well-known microbiologist. She talked about how we can interfere bacterial communication to attenuate pathogenicity. She posits this finding can be a new avenue to treat bacterial manifested diseases in the future.

I presented a poster in this conference entitled “A conserved bacteriophage abortive infection system functions by a novel toxin-antitoxin system”. The poster was well received by peers and principal investigators such as Thomas K. Wood (Pennsylvania State University) and Elizabeth Fozo (University of Tennessee), two well-known figures in the toxin-antitoxin (TA) field my research focuses in. It was a great opportunity to discuss with them future directions and the main questions that needs to be addressed in the field.As I close my PhD studies, it was gratifying to have contributed something of significance to microbiology and represent Otago internationally. Also, it was comforting to meet other PhD students around the world who share similar PhD-life experiences - we are not alone after all.

International Hydrogenase Conference

Szeged, Hungary - Chris Greening 

At the start of July, I had the pleasure of attending the 10th International Hydrogenase Conference in Szeged, Hungary. The five-day event was attended by approximately 200 specialists in the hydrogenase field. It was thanks to the generous financial support of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, as well as the Otago School of Medical Sciences, that I was able to travel and present at the conference.

I presented a poster entitled “The physiological roles of the three [NiFe]-hydrogenases in the obligate aerobe Mycobacterium smegmatis”. The feedback I received from attendees was largely positive and useful. Most of my research has focused on characterising a newly discovered class of hydrogenases proposed to have high-affinity activity. It was gratifying to learn that this type of enzyme had become a major talking point, with the opening plenary even closing on the subject. That said, while the quality of the presentations was high, it was disappointing that most current research focused on the chemical details of hydrogenases and often completed ignored their biological importance. We hope that our work on the novel mycobacterial hydrogenases, combined with a new review publication, will help to readdress this balance.

The Cook Laboratory are newcomers to the hydrogenase field, so this conference provided an opportunity for us to establish ourselves and expose our work. As possibly the only person in the Southern Hemisphere that is actively working on hydrogenases, it was refrehsing to at last talk with people that fully understand this deep, broad field. It was especially good to interact with the leaders and members of the Lenz, Friedrich, Sawers, Shima, Armstrong, Parkin, Vincent, Sargent, and Lubitz laboratories. Otherwise, the conference was well-organised and had a casual, close-knit feel to it. Szeged made for a historic setting and the weather was a welcome break from the New Zealand winter. I also embraced the opportunity to spend a day in Budapest, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

Following the conference, I have spent the last month in the laboratory of Professor Ralf Conrad, director of the Max-Planck Institute for Terrestial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany. At his group, I have looked at hydrogen consumption and production by Mycobacterium smegmatis in a range of conditions using an ultra-sensitive gas chromatograph. My experiments prove that a novel hydrogenase expressed by certain actinobacteria is indeed a high-affinity enzyme with a threshold in the pmol range. The activity of such hydrogenases is proposed to be responsible for 80% of net H2 loss from the atmosphere and hence is of major environmental importance.

During my time in Germany, I have also made visits to the laboratories of Professor Rudolf Thauer, the world leader on the biochemistry or methanogenesis, and Professor Oliver Lenz, who has performed much work on oxygen-tolerant hydrogenases. These visits have provided some useful directions on how to close my PhD. I am very grateful for the University of Otago for providing the funding for me to travel to Europe. I also deeply thank the Sandy Smith Memorial Scholarship and Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Trust Travel Grant for providing the funds to make the collaboration possible. I am currently busy finishing the final experiments in Germany before I leave on Sunday. See you soon, NZ! Many thanks.

Viruses and Cell Gordon Research Conference

Barga, Tuscany, Italy - Emily Waugh 

Thanks to funding from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, along with a travel grant from the Otago Branch of the New Zealand Federation for Graduate Woman, I was able to attend the Viruses and Cells (Gordon Research) conference held in Barga, Italy.

I am undertaking my PhD in the Ward laboratory, investigating “Murine Norovirus Interaction with the Host Cell”, which was the topic of the poster I presented. This conference had talks that covered many key aspects of virology, including the host response and viral manipulation of the host, which reflect the main themes of my PhD research. The exceptional calibre of the internationally renowned virologists in attendance made this conference extremely beneficial not only to my research, but also for networking and developing contacts.

The relatively small number of attendees allowed everyone the opportunity to interact and discuss their research with each other, and it was especially nice as a student to have open access to leading academics and researchers.

I would like to thank again the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, as well as the Otago Branch of the NZFGW for providing travel support to allow me to attend this excellent conference. 

European Mucosal Immunology Conference

Dublin, Ireland - Gowri Pathmanathan 

Thanks to the postgraduate travel funds provided by the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and the Division of Health Sciences, University of Otago, I attended and presented a poster at the 8th European Mucosal Immunology Group (EMIG) meeting in Dublin, Ireland last October.

The EMIG 2012 covered topics which included bacteria-host interactions and regulation of inflammatory responses, which are areas related to my PhD research. Other topics included mucosal antigen presenting cells, regulation of inflammatory responses and mucosal vaccination. Talks were delivered by scientists and clinicians in the field of mucosal immunology across the United Kingdom and Europe.

In particular, I was able to meet Professor Denise Kelly, Head of the Gut Immunology Group at University of Aberdeen, Scotland whose seminal publication in 2004 has inspired my PhD research. Her main research interests are in gut microbiota and immunity and in the mechanisms of bacterial-induced inflammation and regulation. I was very fortunate to have been able to discuss findings of my research to date with her. I also had the opportunity to meet other fellow research students and view their posters, enabling me to lay my work amongst similar field of research and know where I stand.

Attending this conference has given me much appreciation to the work I have been doing and encouragement to move further. I have hopefully also brought back with me, a bit of Irish Luck! ( the phrase ‘Luck of the Irish’ means that  the Irish are inherently lucky, and seem to be able to land on their feet when bad circumstances occur!) 

I once again thank the Department of Microbiology and the Division of Health Sciences, University of Otago for travel funds provided.

Gowri Pathmanathan

Tannock Laboratory

Virus - Like Particle and Nano-Particle Vaccines

Cannes, France - Farah Al Barwani 

I am undertaking my PhD in the Ward Lab, studying the use of the Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) virus-like particle (VLP) as an antigen delivery platform for vaccines. As primary focus of my research is enhancing the functionality of these VLP though mannosylation, presenting a poster at the Virus-Like Particle and Nano-Particle Vaccines conference was very beneficial. It allowed me to share my research with some of the top VLP specialists from around the world, and gain valuable feedback and new ideas for future research. Moreover, included in the programme were presentations from groups involved in late stage clinical trials with a number of different VLP vaccines, illustrating the importance of VLP vaccine research. The conference provided invaluable insight into the critical production and regulatory issues to consider when developing new VLP vaccines.

My conference attendance was kindly supported by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Ministry of Higher Education (Sultanate of Oman) and the NZ Federation for Graduate Women (Otago Branch).