As the name implies, NWASS is a platform for algae and seagrass aficionados in the PNW to get together and share their current research and/or ideas about research in their field(s). I’m clearly an algal nerd but also a closet seagrass lover so this event was my jam. The symposium typically draws around 50-70 people and is ran over 2-3 days, and this year NWASS was held at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island, WA during 6-8 May. This year’s conference was characterized by a biofuels workshop, which helped draw attention from an NSF funding body and they provided enough funds to waive all fees associated with the symposium (excluding travel costs). Amazing, and thanks NSF!
The Martone Lab contributed a significant number to the total body present; we had 10 people from our lab and there were about 45-50 that attended. Daaang. Laura Borden, Kyra Janot, Tiffany Stephens (me), Patrick Martone, and Sam Starko delivered talks; Lauran Liggan, Liam Coleman, Cassandra Jensen, and Gwen Griffiths presented their research in poster form. Allison Dennert provided support. As a lab, we swept the awards! Laura + Kyra were awarded 1st and 2nd best talks, respectively, and Lauran + Gwen were awarded 1st and 2nd best posters, respectively. Excellent job, ladies!
Scott Edmundson of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory opened the conference, sharing an overview of algal biofuel research at his facility. Although the facility is located on the often rainy and cloudy peninsula of WA Sate (in Sequim), their equipment allows them to mimic the climatic conditions of other geographical locations so that they can predict microalgal productivity using outdoor culture tanks in that specific climate on any given day – for example, Phoenix, AZ on 29 Feb 1996. I was particularly attracted to the lighting system, where overhead light apparatus included thousands of small bulbs that emit different light qualities + wavelengths, and each of these collective types of bulbs can be independently programmed to control for the intensity of one quality of light versus another. Verrry niiice.
The following day was filled with 15 min oral presentations, starting with seagrasses, then macroalgae, then biofuels. It was fantastic to be able to learn more about what those in my geographical region and academic field are getting up to these days. To my surprise, I hardly knew anyone! I had lived in Seattle and on San Juan Island for years during my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington – and was quite active in the algal + seagrass community during that time – but very cool to meet new people in my field.
Robin Kodner delivered a stimulating talk about the spatiotemporal patterns in microbiont (algae and bacteria) community structure in Bellingham Bay, relating it to zones of hypoxia. This was very cool and, really, her research and methods are applicable to pretty much any body of water. It elucidated that we don’t know very much about these communities but by using advanced molecular tools (i.e. environmental genomics and metagenomics) we can determine which tiny critters are contributing to community diversity and structure without needing to visually identify them. The aspect of her talk that I got really jazzed about was how these methods helped identify that there is a big shift in community structure between spring and late summer, where phytoplankton are important drivers of community structure in the spring and bacteria are important drivers in late summer.
NWASS organized a beach walk on Sunday to take advantage of the low tides, unfortunately the only people to show up were the Martone Lab and two other symposium attendees! It seems that others might have had personal collections relevant to their research scheduled at other shores – fair enough. Heaps of lovely algae were present. We found some kind of parasite or growth response to an invading fungus on one thallus of Osmundia pinnatifida. There was plenty of Stephanocytsis geminata, a personal favorite, and we all discussed the finer points between Saccharina latissima and Saccharina groenlandica.
Looking forward to next year…only that I was wrangled into organizing it! Thanks to Rob Fitch and Tim Nelson for their hard work with the 2016 symposium.