ENCAPP - European Networks Conference on Algal and Plant Photosynthesis 2016
As we come closer to the end of this four-year project, the members of the AccliPhot consortium joined forces with another Marie Curie Initial Training Network project called PHOTO.COMM (http://photocomm.ku.dk/) to organise a final event to disseminate the work carried out by the fellows over the last three years.
ENCAPP2016 took place from the 26th to the 29th of April in Qawra, Malta and was organised and ran by the fellows of both AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM. The conference created a platform for knowledge exchange on topics ranging from photosynthesis to light-driven microbial communities and industrial applications of microalgae. ENCAPP2016 attracted around 130 participant from over 30 countries, representing over 70 universities, research institutes and industrial institutions.
AccliPhot at ENCAPP2016
As part of our commitment to the European Commission as a Marie Curie Initial Training Network project, we owe it to the European taxpayer to disseminate our research to the general public. To achieve maximum impact, we joined forces with another ITN called PHOTO.COMM. Like AccliPhot, the overall research aims of PHOTO.COMM are photosynthesis-based with focus on the design of light-driven microbial communities of microalgae and cyanobacteria for sustainable large-scale production of chemicals, general biomass and eventually fuels.
The organisational process begun in the autumn of 2014 when the search for a suitable venue began. Since the main theme of ENCAPP2016 is photosynthesis, we decided to focus our research efforts on places with plenty of sunshine. After weighing up the various options and quotations, Qawra in Malta came out on top.
Situated 80km south of Sicily, 284km east of Tunisia, and 333km north of Libya, Malta boasts an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. And with the average diurnal temperature for April being around 20˚C, it was the perfect location to discuss of all things photosynthesis as well as give the participants the opportunity to learn more about Maltese culture.
ENCAPP2016 was declared open by Jun. Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf; co-ordinator of AccliPhot) and Prof. Poul-Erik Jensen (University of Copenhagen; co-ordinator of PHOTO.COMM). They introduced both projects as well as various highlights from each project, giving the participants a glimpse into the workings of Initial Training Network projects.
In order to attract the best and the brightest minds in the fields of photosynthesis and plant and algal biology, we needed more than the alluring prospect of sun, sea and sand - we needed to craft a scientific program worthy of their attendance. Shaped to reflect the research efforts of AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM, the scientific program was organised in a manner that told a story; from classical molecular biology approaches to large-scale biotechnological applications.
ENCAPP2016 Invited Speakers
Prof. David M. Kramer, Michigan State University (USA); Prof. Francis-André Wollman, CNRS et Université Pierre et Marie Curie (France); Prof. Pakrasi Himadri, Washington University (USA); Prof. Christine A. Raines, University of Essex (UK); Dr. Ralf Steuer, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, (Germany); Prof. Birger Lindberg Møller, University of Copenhagen (Denmark); Prof. Jon Clardy, Harvard University (USA); Jun.-Prof. Ilka Axmann, Heinrich Heine University (Germany); Dr. Laurent Fourage, TOTAL New Energies (France)
The result was a four-day scientific program designed to reflect the research themes of the individual projects of each fellow from both AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM. The selected talks were comprised of mostly PhD students, as well as a number of Post-Doctoral fellows and a small number of experienced researchers. Aside from the talks, we had a total of three poster sessions that showcased almost 50 individual posters.
In total, we had ten unique sessions ranging from topics such as ‘Photosynthetic Electron Flow’ and ‘Chloroplast Structure/Assembly’ to ‘Communities’ and ‘Innovative Algae Research for a Bio-based Economy’, the latter of which was a special session co-organised by BioSC (Bioeconomy Science Center, Jülich, Germany; see http://www.biosc.de/). To complement each session, we invited a total of nine internationally renowned speakers that we believe represented the crème de la crème of scientists in the topics of each sessions.
The organising team wanted to ensure that all participants had plenty of opportunities to network and socialise with each other. Therefore, not one but two social events.
The first was a Welcome Dinner by the sea at Café del Mar. Offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and St Paul’s island, Café del Mar forms part of the Malta National Aquarium complex and was the ideal place for our participants to relax, calm the nerves and network. Although swimming was optional, the cool April nights were not quite inviting.
The second social event was a night of local folklore at Razzett L-Antik. Situated in the heart of the medieval village of Qormi, lies a 300-year-old farmhouse originally built to grind wheat into flour. ‘1743’ Ir-Razzett L-Antik was restored to enshrine a lifestyle almost forgotten by time. With its original features still intact this unique building staged the perfect ambience for distant memories to come alive. The kitchen fused old and new methods of cooking, incorporating the art of marinating and slow cooking.
Ingredients include exotic spices, which the Knights introduced to the Maltese Cuisine which we ate as a local musician serenaded us with Maltese folk-inspired versions of modern classics.
The organising team decided to include a dedicated Career Session that gave the young researchers that attended the conference the opportunity to ask four experienced researchers daunting questions about various aspects of life as a scientist, including:
1. Balancing personal life and career
2. Academia vs industry – what are the pros and cons of each career route?
3. Moving abroad – importance of mobility in science
4. Establishing your own working group
Career Session – Panel of Experienced Researchers
Oliver Ebenhöh – Junior Professor and head of the Institute of Quantitative and Theoretical Biology at Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf (Germany)
Julie Maguire – Research Director of Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station (Ireland)
Yumiko Sakuragi – Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
Patrik Jones – Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
Despite the numerous industrial applications of photosynthetic organisms such as microalgae, the link between fundamental research and industry remains weak. To fortify this link, ENCAPP2016 encouraged the attendance of industry representatives and provided a platform for industrial institutions to advertise their research and/or products at the conference. We provided them with exhibition space that optimised visibility to all participants. The Journal of Experimental Botany, Photon Systems Instruments (Czech Republic), and Labotest (Sweden) all utilised this opportunity and brought samples of their products.
Two main prizes were awarded at ENCAPP2016; Best Poster and Best Talk. The Best Poster prize was decided by a committee comprised on Dr Julie Maguire (AccliPhot PI from DOMMRS, Ireland), Dr Paolo Longoni, a Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Geneva, and Anthony Riseley, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and a fellow from PHOTO.COMM. The committee scored each poster on its aesthetics, the scientific content, and the presentation of the poster by its author. After tallying up the scores, the prize was granted to Marcos Hamborg Vinde, a Masters student at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), whose poster was titled ‘Characterisation of different ferredoxin modules in a light-driven P450 fusion enzyme’.
However, due to the closeness in scores, two more persons were mentioned. Masters student Anita Isabel Santana Sanchez from the University of Turku (Finland) and David Russo, a PhD student from The University of Sheffield (United Kingdom) both received Highly Recognised Posters awards.
The Best Talk award was determined by a democratic voting procedure where all participants were given the opportunity to submit a name of their favourite presenter. The winner of this award was Maria Henriques de Jesus, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) with her talk titled ‘Using Tat proteins for pathway organisation of light-driven biosynthesis of natural products’.
Thank you to all the fellows from both AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM whose input was invaluable in making ENCAPP2016 a reality. A special thank you to The Project Managers from both projects, Dr Stephanie Spelberg, Kathrin Müller, and Dr Kristine Kirkensgaard who worked night and day for the conference.
Sponsors and external funding
External funding was essential for the success of ENCAPP2016. Fellows of both AccliPhot and PHOTO.COMM worked tirelessly to source and secure funding. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors which included BioSC (Bioeconomy Science Center, Jülich, Germany; http://www.biosc.de/), Phyconet (United Kingdom; http://www.phyconet.org.uk/), International Society of Photosynthesis Research (http://www.photosynthesisresearch.org/), Journal of Experimental Botany (https://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/), Photon Systems Instruments (Czech Republic; http://www.psi.cz/), TOTAL (http://www.total.com/en), Labotest (Sweden, http://www.labotest.se/), and the Malta Tourism Authority (http://www.visitmalta.com/).
Author: Fiona Moejes