AccliPhot students host the Third Edition of the Young Algaeneers Symposium (YAS2016)
A number of AccliPhot students co-host YAS2016 with students from another ITN called PHOTO.COMM
The biennial Young Algaeneers Symposium is the brainchild of a group of PhD students from Wageningen University who in 2011 decided they were fed up with the layouts of the big well-established algae conferences. More specifically, in the words of Lenny de Jaeger (one of the founders of YAS), he was tired of these conferences being ‘dominated by established professors preaching their ancient work to the choir and representatives from companies that, instead of presenting and discussing their novel ideas, were stuck behind the company red tape’.
The inaugural YAS event took place in Wageningen in 2012, while the second edition was held in Montpellier and Narbonne in 2014. In the spring of 2015, the YAS Advisory Board sent out e-mails to find the next group of brave souls that could organize the third edition of YAS. After consulting a couple of the fellows from AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM who had attended the previous YAS events in Wageningen (2012) and Montpellier/Narbonne (2014), we decided to put in an official proposal to host the YAS2016 in Malta. After all, we were already organizing ENCAPP2016 there! What’s one more conference?
When we got the OK from the YAS advisory board, we were overjoyed. Now began the real work. We were so fortunate that despite being in the final year of their PhDs as well as organising ENCAPP, a number of very dedicated people jumped on board.
Fast forward 10 months later, an international gathering of Algaeneers from all walks of life congregated in Qawra, Malta from the 23rd to the 25th of April 2016. YAS2016 boasted Algaeneers from over 20 countries representing 6 of the 7 continents (we have yet to lure anyone from Antarctica, unfortunately).
As PhD students and fresh-faced post-docs, we are the future of algae research. Young researchers are the ones who will be able to steer the direction in which future algal research will go. To ensure that the scientific content of YAS2016 was forward-thinking, we shaped each session around the themes of the abstracts submitted by the participants. The program was divided into three distinct sessions, creatively titled as: ‘Cooltivation, bro’ where all aspects of algal cultivation were addressed, ‘Algaeneering: from bench to bank’ which included talks and discussions on fundamental research approaches and industrially-relevant applications, and ‘Midas Touch: turning waste into green gold’ where we covered the use of algae in bioremediation and wastewater treatment. In total, the program included twelve 20-minute spotlight presentations as well as over 40 short pitches coined ‘Flash Talks’. The fundamental idea behind the Flash Talks came with the realisation that the current system of financing scientific research, to some degree, a scientist needs to be a salesman. Therefore, with only 5 minutes allocated to each pitch, more than 40 participants had the opportunity to present their research in a clear and attractive way.
Poster sessions were also part of the program, with the majority of the posters containing further details that complement a Flash Talk, allowing for continued in-depth discussions between participants.
Last, but certainly not least, YAS2016 introduced a session purely dedicated to discussion, coined ‘Algal Gaps’. During the registration of YAS2016, all participants had the opportunity to mention any ideas or
concepts they felt needed to be addressed as young Algaeneers. After taking all the suggestions into consideration, we grouped them into four main topics:
- Multidisciplinary approach to algal research – such as in silico approaches which was mentored by Dr Antonella Succurro (Heinrich Heine University; AccliPhot)
- Future of cultivation – novel approaches in genetics, biogas production, modifying high-value/active ingredients mentored by Gergana Kostova (University of Freiburg; PHOTO.COMM)
- Novel applications of algal biotechnology – algae in developing countries as an aid in international development efforts; trends and new high-value products of interest; algae as biofilters or bioindicators mentored by Witold Januszewski (University of Freiburg; PHOTO.COMM)
- The business of algae – going back to biofuels – can we REALLY compete with fossil fuels; promises we as researchers can make to potential investors and how to maintain this relationship; is legislation hindering the progress of algal research mentored by Dr Tiago Guerra (A4F; PHOTO.COMM).
All participants chose which Algal Gap they wanted to join, and each group presented their findings, some of which are in the process of being disseminated as Review Papers and Letters to the Editor.
To break the ice and shake off any nervousness that comes with attending an international symposium, and provide a care-free platform for participants to get to know one another, a GPS Challenge of Valletta was arranged. The two-hour activity spread across the city of Valletta was a successful team building experience that was followed by an “Algal Speed Dating” session at The Chophouse on the Valletta harbour. This was set up in the same way traditional speed dating is – introducing yourself to a bunch of strangers and hope at the end of the evening, you make some new professional connections.
The speed dating session allowed participants to briefly introduce themselves to each other. With only 5 minutes to spare, each participant explained their research interests, approaches and long-term goals to as many fellow Algaeneers as the speed dating session allowed.
The official Symposium Dinner was held at the nautical-themed restaurant, Tal-Kaptan which contained a menu filled with a variety of other dishes such as pasta, salads, grills and homemade desserts.
We implemented a democratic voting system for the best Flash Talk. All participants were provided with an orange YAS coin (the official currency of YAS2016) which they had to give to their favourite Flash Talk presenter. At the end, we tallied up the number of coins each presenter had. The winner was Iago Teles, a PhD student from Wageningen University, with a very create Flash Talk titled ‘Microalgae breeding: sorting cells with increased TAG productivity’.
The obvious absence of experienced researchers, including heads of institutes and principal investigators, provided a platform for free and open discussion and allows for the unbiased critique of current problems faced in the field. We hope that the participants of YAS2016 left with more than just a tan and sand in their shoes – but a renewed love of algal research and bountiful new ideas! Here’s to Algaeneering the Future!
Author: Fiona Moejes