SMBE 2015, Vienna

30 Jul 2015

The first thing that surprised me was the obvious magnificence of the venue. The Hofburg Palace was built in the 13th century and housed the Habsburg dynasty, rulers during the Austro-Hungarian empire. Once we got inside through a little door on the left hand side of the main door, we discovered how big the conference was. It was Sunday afternoon in a humid and warm day, and there were hundreds of people trying to reach the registration desk. The inaugural conference was starting five minutes later and no one was getting inside without his badge.

After a few nervous moments, a little sweaty wait and some ‘heys’ to some known faces we made it to the inaugural conference by Joe Felsenstein. It was ok. Then drinks. A few more ‘heys’. A bit of food and drinks and then we reached the highlight of the day: beers on an Australian Pub. There were friends from the NHM, always fidel to the ritual of drinking (lots of) beer to loosen conversation.

I loved to engage with the people. I finally meet some of the big sharks that I have been reading about, and most of them are great. They are common people after all. Meeting new people is great, but I also enjoyed spending time with people I already knew (or I thought I knew) in a different environment that at work. It helps a lot to know them better.

Overall, SMBE15 was FUN. That’s the conclusion I reached the very same day the conference was finished. I enjoyed a lot some of the talks and dozens of posters. Some topics were specially relevant like pop genetics, microbial evolution or gene expression, with genomics dominating the entire conference. We got lots of ‘congrats’ for the Ancient DNA and Selection symposium we organized. That is always encouraging. As John Novembre said about his Popgen in Space! symposium, we got six talks plus two great keynote speakers, maybe in six years we will get four symposium slots and forty talks. I certainly think that, as ancient genomes increase in number and quality, selection is going to be the next big thing in relation ancient DNA, so chances are high.

As expected, the spectrum of research themes was huge. Bigger than anybody could possibly take. I couldn’t avoid the feeling, however, that there was a topic almost missing, and one that for me was and still is very important. There was little mention to biological invasions and the genetics of invasive species. I’m probably strongly biased about this but I think that studying invasive species from a genomics/population genetics point of view is an area of knowledge that needs to be explored lot further and I’m sure will have a more prominent role on a future in which invasions are still increasing despite being recognized as among the main threats to global biodiversity.