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Travel Grant Reports 2006

The American Geophysical Union’s Annual Fall Meeting
San Francisco, California, USA. 11–16 December 2006

Kate Bodger
PhD student, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury

This was the largest earth science conference ever to be held in the world with over 13,600 people attending and covered a wide variety of earth science and related topics including many aspects of geology, geophysics, climatology, glaciology, oceanography and marine biology.

My research project is based on the effects of submarine landscape evolution in response to seamount subduction in the Hikurangi Subduction zone, offshore Poverty Bay in the North Island. Subduction zones are still not well understood and my project is part of a global effort to understand these systems and the hazards associated with them. This is of particular use in New Zealand due to our proximity to a very active subduction zone and possible tsunami hazard to the East Coast. New data obtained by the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere, the Ministry of Economic Development and various sea voyages has allowed New Zealand researchers to be involved to a comparable level with the work currently being achieved overseas.

Because of the sheer size and number of people attending it is very difficult to be able to present a talk so this year there were over 1700 posters presented, including my own. It was amazing to see how well everything was run considering this size and while I was only able to present my poster on one morning during the conference, I was stationed with it for about 3 hours and managed to talk to a wide variety of researchers and students from around the globe. This was fantastic in terms of inspiration and enthusiasm and meeting others in the field (potential contacts), as well as really being able to see how what we are doing in New Zealand fits in with the global system. The opportunity to then in turn be able to see what others were doing was also excellent, inspiring and very useful for ideas and general interest.

A speech by ex-US Senator Al Gore during the week was an extra highlight as he talked about global warming and bridging the gap between science understanding and the general public, particularly in relations to earth hazards.

I would like to extend my grateful thanks to the RSNZ Canterbury Branch for the opportunity to attend this conference.

Image and Vision Computing New Zealand 2006 Conference (IVCNZ06)
Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, 27–29 November 2006

Judy Mohr
PhD student, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Canterbury

With the assistance of the RSNZ (Canterbury Branch) I was able to attend this conference. Great Barrier Island provided a picturesque environment for this annual conference on image processing techniques and applications, and was enjoyed by all. A wide variety of topics were covered at IVCNZ06 including biomedical imaging, forensics and imaging through the atmosphere.

My chosen field is in astronomical instrumentation. In particular my research is related to the detection (and compensation of) atmospheric turbulence as measured using optical stellar techniques. Atmospheric turbulence significantly distorts stellar images and having reliable methods for measuring the characteristics of the turbulence present at a site is vital for compensation.

I was fortunate to be able to give an oral presentation on my work on the determination of average wind velocities present at Mount John University Observatory (MJUO). MJUO is located just above the township of Tekapo, NZ, and is used by the astronomy community doing research in the southern hemisphere. To measure the characteristics of atmospheric turbulence present at the site I use an optical technique known as scintillation detection and ranging (SCIDAR). The SCIDAR technique uses the scintillation pattern produced by a binary star at the telescope aperture to estimate the turbulence structure. As this technique relies on stellar images the IVCNZ06 conference provided a fantastic forum for the image processing side of the research.

While at the conference I was not only able to get some ideas for furthering my research, but I was able to meet a variety of people (including those from Japan, Thailand, Sweden and Australia) in a relaxing environment.

Since then the proceedings from the IVCNZ06 conference has been published and selected papers have been made available on the conference website (http://www.citr.auckland.ac.nz/ivcnz06/programme.html).

The 27th Annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)
Montreal, Canada, 5–9 November 2006.

Lisa A. Hack
Landcare Research Ltd – Auckland, Ph.D. student, Lincoln University

With the assistance of the Royal Society of New Zealand (Canterbury Branch) I was able to attend The 27th Annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The meeting theme, ‘Global Environment and Sustainability: Sound Science in a World of Diversity’ attracted more than 2,500 environmental science professionals from around the globe. The meeting provided an excellent opportunity to interact with representatives from government, business, and academia, to exchange ideas and observe current trends in environmental toxicology. Attendance also enabled me to present a platform presentation of some of my research findings which generated discussion and positive feedback on the nature of the work and also provided insight into future research areas. The platform presentation detailed the development and initial phase implementation of a potentially new biomonitoring bioassay for use in estuarine environmental assessments.

Briefly, the purpose of my Ph.D. research was to develop and validate methods to assess the effects of pollution, using a marine invertebrate species as a bioindicator. The developed protocols are aimed to provide much-needed tools to environmental organizations for monitoring pollution effects in New Zealand estuarine environments. Shellfish species have previously been used to assess the health of estuaries, but their use in environmental assessment programmes has many limitations, including a long generation time, large size, and the difficulty of their being cultured in the laboratory. In recent years, the development of biomonitoring protocols using the more appropriate ‘meiofauna’ (crustacean, worms etc, between 63 and 500 µm in length) has provided great advantages in evaluating the effects of pollution. Recent research in the USA has shown the potential of using this group of organisms as bioindicators of estuarine health and similar methods have been adapted to the New Zealand situation.

The environmental industry is moving towards integrated standard operating procedures (SOPs), but current SOPs have several significant technological gaps. A key one is their poorly developed ability to characterize effectively any adverse biological effects of exposure to chemicals in the environment. Although land-use practices involving the application of chemicals are heavily regulated, there are still problems associated with soil leaching and runoff from land. The effects of chemical pollutants on terrestrial organisms have been studied, but less information is available on the effects of chemical pollutants on marine organisms. Therefore, one of the aims of this research was to develop biological methods to properly assess and provide ‘early-warning’ signals of potential biological effects arising from chemical pollutants in estuarine environments. End-users have raised concerns over the limitations of methodologies currently available to monitor pollution in estuarine environments in particular and the power of these methods to estimate long-term effects on exposed populations.

I am very grateful to the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and my supervisor Professor Steve Wratten for facilitating my attendance at the 27th Annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

Please forward any correspondence to: Lisa Hack

Neobiota–from Ecology to Conservation
Vienna, Austria, 27–30 September 2006

Hazel Gatehouse
PhD student, Lincoln University

Hazel GatehouseI am a full-time PhD student at Lincoln University studying the naturalised plants of New Zealand. These plants are introduced non-native species that now have self-sustaining populations in the wild. With the assistance of funding from the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand and other organisations, I was able to attend the 4th European conference on biological invasions. More than 350 people from 45 countries registered for this year’s conference–a huge increase when compared with the 50 people from five or six countries who attended the first of these biennial conferences held in 2000.

The conference had two themes (Conservation and Biodiversity, and Ecology of Invasive Alien Species) and there were several topics within each theme. As fewer than 40 talks could be presented from around 250 submitted abstracts, my abstract was accepted for a poster. My poster - “Invasions down under” - presented some of my results from my PhD research into the year of discovery of the naturalised seed plants of New Zealand, and the spread of these species through New Zealand. This fitted into the patterns and processes topic of the ecology of invasive alien species theme.

Some world-renowned scientists, who research naturalised and invasive species, spoke at the conference, including Daniel Simberloff, Jeffrey McNeely, Philip Hulme, Ingo Kowarik and Petr Pysek. New Zealand was mentioned by several speakers, including Daniel Simberloff, as being a world leader with its Biosecurity Act. Some delegates were surprised to find three people from New Zealand attending the conference because they rate New Zealand so highly and wondered what we could learn from the conference!

I attended the conference dinner held at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and took part in the field trip to the National Park, Donau-Auen where we looked at some of the measures that aim to control the invasive species in this area.

The conference, dinner and field trip were most enjoyable and provided a great opportunity to hear about the latest research in Europe and to meet and network with scientists researching in the same field as me. I have made some valuable contacts for the future and have some new ideas for continuing my research into the naturalised species of New Zealand.

10th Evolutionary Biology Meeting
Marseilles, France, 20-22 September 2006

2nd International Tandem Repeat Consortium Workshop on the Bioinformatics, Genomics and Functionality of Microsatellites and VNTRs
Budapest, Hungary, 8-11 September 2006

Emmanuel Buschiazzo
PhD student, Molecular Ecology Lab, University of Canterbury

With aid from the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, I was able to attend two prominent conferences of my field of research and present both a talk and a poster.

Microsatellites are short DNA motifs (1-6 bp) repeated in tandem across genomes of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Almost 20 years after the discovery of these hypervariable sequences, microsatellites hold on as the genetic markers of choice, although there is still some contention regarding their mutational dynamics. My PhD research project aims to document the evolutionary course of microsatellites in mammals. Not only will it provide a first insight into the extent of microsatellite conservation in mammals, it will also help to test the hypothesis that microsatellites evolve in genomes in a cyclic fashion, from birth to death. My supervisor and I have recently examined this concept, and I was looking forward to exchange and challenge these ideas with a highly knowledgeable audience.

My expectations were met both in Budapest and in Marseilles, and for slightly different reasons. The small crowd in Budapest was formed of experts in today’s hot topics in microsatellite research, spanning population genetics, genetic mapping, and especially the study of their functionality in genomes. In a very short time, I have learned a lot from these accomplished scientists, and I am grateful to some of them for having freely shared their thoughts about my work and my poster. The conference in Marseilles put together evolutionary biologists with different background and interests. I found talks on intron evolution, genome duplication and the genetics of adaptation particularly interesting. A more disparate audience was also an excellent opportunity to introduce my work to prominent biologists who were unfamiliar with the topic. A relaxed atmosphere allowed a multitude of exchange and discussions, and gave me the chance to create good contacts with both academics and other students.

As a whole, I received a positive reaction to my work, but it was also an excellent experience to be confronted by a challenging audience. I have learned a lot at these two conferences, and I am indebted to the RSNZ (Canterbury Branch) for helping me attending them in Europe.

ebr26@student.canterbury.ac.nz
http://www.biol.canterbury.ac.nz/MEL/manu.shtml

The Future of Asteroseismology
Vienna, Austria 20–22 September 2006

Duncan Wright
PhD student, Physics and Astronomy Department, University of Canterbury

Duncan WrightAt the Workshop I presented my research in two posters entitled ‘Coordinated observational campaigns for non-radially pulsating objects’ and ‘Analysis tools for non-radially pulsating objects’.

These non-radially pulsating stars I have observed have a variable light output due to the travelling waves moving around the surface of the star. The spectral lines observed formed in the outer layers of the star also show variability because of these travelling waves. By identifying all the specific modes of the travelling waves (non-radial pulsations) occurring in a star we can then try to match a theoretical stars pulsations to those we observe. This can constrain a number of parameters that describe the star such as its metallicity and surface temperature and gravity. This process is called asteroseismology.

The first poster outlined my work (and my supervisor’s) in organising international multi-site campaigns of both photometry and spectroscopy on γ Doradus type stars. The poster detailed the findings on the gamma Doradus candidates that were observed. The preliminary results described were the calculations of the targets’ projected rotational velocity and orbital period where a binary system was observed.

The second poster described the tools I have been developing for the analysis of the spectral lines of the γ Doradus candidate stars. It involved measuring the projected rotational velocity of the star from its line profiles and an analysis of the periodicity of the variations in the line profile.

Attending this conference has helped me in many ways. At the conference I was able to meet a number of people that I have contacted regarding their research in the last couple of years and discuss with them the possibility of working together on future projects (one of which has already been observed and awaits analysis, another will be begun in August). I discussed the application of two ideas I have had regarding the improvement of the current method of determining spectral line variability by increasing signal:noise through line combining, which because of those conversations has become a focus of my research. Also I was able to arrange to apply for post-doctoral funding for after the completion of my PhD with two European researchers.

After the conference I visited a collaborator in Brussels and we put together applications for observing time at the European Southern Observatory and at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) of which the SAAO time was granted.

Microsat06: Workshop on Genetics
Genomics & Bioinformatics of Microsatellites and VNTRs
Budapest, Hungary, 8–11 September, 2006

Iris Miriam Vargas Jentzsch
PhD student, Molecular Ecology Laboratory, University of Canterbury

My research is about a very controversial and complex topic; the evolution of microsatellites. Microsatellites are special parts of the DNA contained in any genome and composed by very short repetitive units. These small repeats can be very unstable because their repetitive nature makes them more prone to mutations during DNA replication than the rest of the DNA. Microsatellite mutations are important mainly because they represent one of the most frequent changes within DNA sequences. When microsatellites are located in coding regions they can cause disease if the mutation rate gets “out of control”, allowing the microsatellite to increase in size above average, as observed in several neurodegenerative diseases and some forms of cancer. However, the majority of microsatellites are located within non-coding regions where their frequent mutations can not disrupt genes, and therefore they are assumed to be evolutionary neutral: having no essential function in the genome. Furthermore, based on this assumption, microsatellites are extensively used as molecular markers for studies of genetic mapping, paternity testing and population genetics, among others. Nonetheless, very recent studies have shown that microsatellites also can have important roles in gene regulation. Clearly, there are two opposing trends: on the one hand to use microsatellites as neutral molecular markers, and on the other, to look for associations of microsatellites with regulatory regions and genetic disorders. These positions are not necessarily self-exclusive, but since the current knowledge about microsatellites is based on a great number of small scale studies, there is a need for a genome scale study analyzing microsatellites in the context of other genomic features, which is what I proposed for my PhD project.

I am already half way into a study based on comparative analysis of microsatellites between different genomes using bioinformatic tools. The main objective is to associate microsatellite evolutionary trends with their position within the genome. The dog and human genomes both complete and published online are the initial model genomes for my study. To identify the microsatellites within these genomes I analyzed several microsatellite-search programs and combined two of them, Tandem Repeat Finder and Sputnik, to produce databases of microsatellite positions. The Microsat06 workshop was held at the right time for me to present my first results, which I did in a poster format with the title: “Microsatellite search across the dog genome: looking for a needle in a needlestack”. The two key points of my presentation were:

  1. The publication of a novel microsatellite search methodology and the program parameters used, in order to facilitate the cross-comparability between future microsatellite identification studies.
  2. The analysis of microsatellite coverage across the dog and human genomes allowing the inclusion of interruptions within repeats. Microsatellites do actually extend across very long stretches of DNA. In the dog genome they cover more than 5% of the genomic sequence, twice the amount of microsatellites observed in humans. These results are important for further comparative analysis since the outstanding amount of microsatellites in dogs could be related to their extraordinary potential for morphological and behavioural change, which is evident from the diversity of dog breeds established to date.

The Microsat06 workshop was a small and specific meeting that brought together 80 participants from different parts of the world including prominent names in the field of microsatellites like C. Schloetterer, G. Toth, E. Dermitzakis, H. Garner and Bill Amos. About half of the talks were related to the area of genetic disorders affected by microsatellite instability. Therefore it was both interesting and inspiring to see how every time more people start digging into the idea of microsatellite functionality. I also enjoyed some cool comments on my poster and got a couple of great suggestions for my ongoing work.

Budapest is an awesome city. I had a very enjoyable time observing the mixture of modern architecture with Austrian, Turkish and neo-gothic styles giving a particularly melancholic ambience to the city. I am very grateful to the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Microsatellite Consortium and my supervisor Neil Gemmell for facilitating my attendance to the Microsat06 workshop.

The 2nd International Tandem Repeat Consortium workshop on the Bioinformatics, Genomics and Functionality of Microsatellites and VNTRs
Budapest, Hungary 8-11 September 2006

Angelika Merkel
PhD student, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Thanks to the combined support of several funding sources, I had the great opportunity, together with two fellow students, to attend this very specialized meeting on tandem repeats in Budapest, Hungary.

The conference’s course of action implied three days of talks, long and short ones with several plenary lectures scattered around, poster session and a workshop on the fourth day on bioinformatic applications for tandem repeats. Topics ranged from functional roles of tandem repeats e.g. in regulating gene expression (especially of psychiatric diseases), to microsatellite evolution with focus on microsatellite dominance in respect to protein function, and finally microsatellites as genetic markers, e.g. in population genetic studies (especially the structure of human populations). The workshop included an introduction to the USCS genome browser, which I already was familiar with, but nevertheless thought me several good tricks I did not know before.
Two for me outstanding talks to point out: First, a plenary lecture held by Bob Wells who is known for his work on alternative DNA and RNA structures since over 40 years. For this meeting he talked about the importance of repetitive sequences in the formation and especially promotion of those alternative structures. Second, a talk memorable for it innovative ideas, that was given by Christian Schlötterer, one of the discoverers of microsatellites. He presented an experiment where he showed that microsatellites can be used to detect advantageous mutations within a population.

Overall, the meeting was very small with roughly about 60 participants, but nevertheless attracted most of the leading researchers in the field. I was quite happy about the chance to present my poster to such an expert audience and the opportunity to have more in depth discussions with people rather than the usual rush-about. It was also nice to finally meet some of my “scientific gurus”, which then turned out to be young and dynamic personalities instead of old and fossil professors. The social program included a conference dinner, set at beautiful garden restaurant in the old centre of town and a boat cruise on the Danjube river for a bit of sightseeing, which indeed was quite spectacular. During both events and several coffee and lunch breaks I had plenty of opportunities for a chat and establishing many new contacts, which made the meeting very successful. Last, there is also an unofficial sightseeing tour with the local Hungarian students to mention, which included the unforgettable visit of the local wine festival at the Budapest castle and always will leave Budapest in good memory for me.

I am again very grateful for the support that made it possible for me to attend the meeting, as I very much enjoyed it. I am very looking forward to next year’s meeting.

39th Annual Meeting of the Society for Invertebrate Pathology, 9th International Colloquium on Invertebrate Pathology and Microbial Control
Wuhan, China, 27 August – 1 September, 2006

Carolyn Mander
PhD, Insect Pathology, Bio-Protection and Ecology Division, Lincoln University

Having completed my PhD in April 2006, presenting my paper “Pathogenicity of Beauveria bassiana towards Fuller’s rose weevil larvae in soil” at the conference was my student swan-song. With 400 delegates from all corners of the world, the meeting offered great diversity and expertise in all areas of invertebrate pathology and microbial control, yet the Society provides a highly supportive environment for student research. The relatively small nature of the meeting meant it was easy to talk to people. I had many valuable discussions with experts in my field, developing ideas for future research directions and possible collaborations.

Entomopathogenic fungi, such as B. bassiana, have great potential as biological controls for insect pests. However, failure of field applications is frequently observed due to a lack of understanding of how soil factors affect both survival of fungal conidia in soil and rates of infection. Furthermore, traditional bioassay methods such as maximum-challenge assays do not equate with infection rates in complex environments such as soil. Fuller’s rose weevil, Naupactus cervinus Crotch, was used as a model insect for studying soil effects on infection. The weevil was a major problem for the kiwifruit industry due to quarantine restrictions on exports to Japan.

My study compared rates of infection in different soil types. Conidial germination and persistence in soil was also investigated. The results showed larval infection by Beauveria spp. is inhibited in highly fungistatic soils and suggested the effective dose can decline rapidly in soil. The results reinforce the importance of environmental competence when selecting microbial control strains.

Conidial germination on the larval cuticle in soil was also examined using fluorescence microscopy. Attachment and germination are critical steps in the infection process. A positive relationship between germination on the cuticle and strain virulence was found. Conidial germination is substantially inhibited in fungistatic soils, so the high rates of germination observed on the insect cuticle suggested that conidia that are attached to the cuticle can overcome the inhibitory effects of soil.

There were many positive responses to my presentation and I was delighted to receive an Honourable Mention in the student oral presentation awards. After the conference I had an opportunity to visit the Entomology Department at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan and also Wuhan Nature’s Favour Bioengineering Co., a major biopesticide producer and distributor. I also enjoyed taking in the sights, sounds and food of Wuhan, and wandering the banks of the Yangtze River, an experience I will not soon forget.

Many thanks to the Canterbury Branch of the RSNZ for making my attendance at SIP2006 possible. I would also like to thank Zespri Innovation Ltd, AgResearch and Lincoln University for supporting my PhD research.

37th International Conference of Coordination Chemistry
13th – 18th August 2006, Cape Town, South Africa

Justine Cottam
PhD student, Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury.

In August, 2006 I was lucky enough to attend the 37th International Conference of Coordination Chemistry (ICCC), which was held at the brand new international convention centre in Cape Town, South Africa. The 37th ICCC was an exciting event attended by around 600 delegates from all corners of the world and is considered a major event for those working in the field of coordination chemistry.

I am beginning the 3rd year of my PhD research in inorganic chemistry under the supervision of Prof. Peter Steel at the University of Canterbury. My research is in the specialist area known as metallosupramolecular chemistry.

At the conference I presented a poster illustrating some of the exciting results I have achieved so far. Supramolecular chemistry is one of the most visually fascinating and fastest growing areas of experimental chemistry. The rapid development in the field of supramolecular chemistry has now advanced to the point where specific supramolecular structures can be formed by the self-assembly of carefully selected building blocks under controlled conditions. Metallosupramolecular chemistry involves the construction of nanoscale molecular species by reacting metal atoms with organic ligands. The metal atom acts as a type of molecular ‘glue’ binding together the organic ligands in specific orientations. Thus, appropriate combinations of metal ions and ligands lead to the controlled self assembly of interesting and intricate 0-, 1-, 2- or 3-dimensional molecular aggregates. These species can have applications in fields such as nanotechnology and non-linear optics.
In my PhD I am making new organic ligands using conventional organic synthesis and then exploring their reactions with a variety of metal precursors. The majority of the ligands prepared are of a flexible nature and it is of great interest to explore the topogical possibilities of complexes by use of heterocyclic rings linked to aromatic groups via flexible spacer groups. Ligands are designed around a bisphenol A or Z-type core, consisting of a central rigid propane or cyclohexane group linked to two aromatic benzene groups. New and novel ligands are designed around these cores by linking various heterocyclic rings to the aromatic cores. The coordination chemistry of such ligands has been investigated and numerous complexes and crystal structures have been obtained. My poster showcased some of my most recent and exciting results, one of which is the first known example of a copper dinuclear quadruple helicate.

Attending this conference was a great experience for me as it was my first big international conference. My poster presentation received considerable attention and I was able to discuss my research with experts in the field and expand my scientific knowledge by seeing other people’s current research in the field.
This opportunity also gave me the chance to develop many new contacts as well as meet prospective post doctoral employers in the field.

The conference was held at the brand new Cape Town convention centre, which was situated within walking distance of the famous Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with the stunning Table Mountain as its backdrop. At lunch and dinner times there were many opportunities to sample the delicious food and drink with fellow chemists at the many restaurants lining the waterfront, as well as indulge in some shopping. One of the highlights of my trip to Cape Town was visiting Roben Island, the prison in which Nelson Mandela spent 27 years and of course going up Table Mountain. After the conference I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience some other parts of Africa on an overland safari tour, the highlight of which was seeing all the animals up close.

I am very grateful to have had the chance to attend this conference and would thoughly recommend that other students attend such conferences if given the opportunity. I would like to thank the Royal Society of New Zealand Canterbury branch for financial assistance to attend this conference.

I was fortunate enough on my travels to walk with lions in Zimbabwe. This was an absolutely amazing experience!

The 11th International Congress of Human Genetics
Brisbane, Australia, 6–10 August

So Young Moon
PhD student, Cancer Genetics Research Group, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences

The International Congress of Human Genetics is one of the foremost international human genetics meetings that is held every five years. This year, the 11th meeting was hosted by the Human Genetics Society of Australasia and was held at the Brisbane Convention Centre in Brisbane, Australia, from the 6th to 10th of August. Approximately 1500 scientists and physicians attended from around the world and the location made the congress particularly accessible for delegates from Pacific/Asia. My expectations of this prestigious international meeting were fully met by the most up-to-date and informative oral and poster presentations. The conference also provided opportunities to speak with the world’s leading scientists in person and have discussions on my PhD project and career development.

The conference officially began in the late afternoon on the 6th of August with an impressive opening ceremony featuring an Australian aboriginal performance and a welcome reception. The intense program that followed the next 4 days took place between 8:30am and 7pm and was consisted of oral and poster presentations by senior as well as young emerging scientists. A wide range of topics on human genetics was covered including summaries of advances in human genetics, disease genes, and human sex chromosomes. Presentations provided an excellent overview of the latest developments in the field of human genetics and evoked highly constructive discussions on current issues in human genetics.

The conference was particularly enriched with talks on normal variations in human genome which is currently one of the biggest issues in the genetics field. This was particularly relevant to and beneficial for my PhD project. My project aims to look at the genetic profile of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and detect abnormal genetic changes that caused the development of the leukaemia. One of the most challenging aspects of my project is to distinguish pathogenic changes from variations that are found in normal healthy people. Listening to the views of experts and following discussions provided me with the tools and ability to differentiate the normal changes from pathogenic changes.

On the second day of the congress, I presented my research in the form of a poster entitled “High resolution genomic profiling of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia”. There were about 1000 poster presentations and my presentation was unique in that the technique applied to this particular leukaemia and received a lot of interest and positive feedback.

Overall, the conference was proved to be very informative and worthwhile experience. I greatly appreciate the support and funding assistance of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch, which has enabled me to attend this prime conference.

Workshop on Molecular Evolution in Woods Hole
Massachusetts, USA. 23 July–4 August 2006

Margee Will
PhD student, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

With aid from the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch, I was able to attend the Workshop on Molecular Evolution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA. For two weeks from July – August 2006, 60 doctoral students, post docs and researchers travelled from across the globe to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. For over nine hours a day, we were engrossed in learning and debating the intricacies of molecular evolution from 19 of the most prominent names in evolutionary biology. The days were intense and as routine as a computer program. Even during occasional excursions to Martha’s Vineyard or to local beaches, evolution and current research were constantly discussed.

Lectures covered topics including phylogenetics, comparative genomics, population genetics and molecular evolution. In order to understand these topics, we were challenged to think across a variety of extremes and their interfaces: we went from macro to micro scales like ecosystems to amino acids, we traversed time scales from millions of years to hundreds of generations and we passed from theoretical to applied research. In addition to theoretical lectures, our critical thinking was further tested with examining biological data using a variety of computer programs, such as FASTA, GARLI, LAMARC, MrBayes, PAML, and Paup*. The computer laboratories were equipped with computer technicians and the latest Macintosh computers, as well as the authors and experts of these programs. This amount of support enabled relatively glitch-free explorations. The authors and experts taught us new tricks, showed us how people have misused the programs and explained the problems that we encountered when we tried running these programs.

I applied to the workshop because I needed to synthesize and clarify the knowledge I have gained since starting my doctorate. My thesis examined the population genetic structure of New Zealand abalone (Haliotis iris). I was interested in determining the amount of gene flow between populations, the potential barriers to gene flow, and the size and growth rate of the population. I also wanted to compare the genetic structure of H. Iris to those of other New Zealand marine invertebrates. To address these issues, I collected genetic data using a variety of molecular markers that were different in many respects. I had markers from both the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. Some of these markers were changing neutrally while others were under intense selection. I also had DNA sequence data and allele frequency data. With such a variety of data, the problems became how do I combine such data, what assumptions do I need to make or break for potential analyses, and how does my knowledge of the markers affect my interpretation of the results. The workshop was invaluable because I could work one-on-one with some of the main researchers driving theoretical evolution in attempts to answer these questions.

I really enjoyed my time at The Workshop on Molecular Evolution. I gained some invaluable insights into the processes of evolution. I learned from world-renowned scientists. I met many up-and-coming researchers and students asking interesting and similar evolutionary questions. This wonderful opportunity was made possible with assistance from the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch-—thank you!

The New Zealand Society of Animal Production Annual Conference
26–28 June 2006, Napier, New Zealand

Craig G Trotter
BAg Honours student
Lincoln University

I presented a paper in the Young Members Session on an experiment performed in 2005 during my final year’s study for Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) Degree at Lincoln University.

Several studies have found that cattle generally avoid grazing near their own species dung and that sheep are more inclined to graze within the surrounding area of cattle dung pats compared to cattle. These authors found that sheep acceptance for those areas left un-grazed by cattle gave rise to improved pasture utilisation and increased total animal performance.

Deer and cattle are increasingly being grazed together on the same areas of land. Consequently it is important to understand the potential for complementarity or competition between these two species when being run together.

The experiment involved comparing the grazing strategies of deer and sheep on pasture with or without contamination by cattle dung pats. Sheep and deer separately grazed on 0.4 ha plots of a ryegrass/white clover pasture. Half of the area was contaminated with artificially applied cattle dung pats using fresh cattle dung at an application rate of 1 dung pat per 4 m2. The remaining half of the plots was left uncontaminated. The experiment involved measuring pasture mass across plots and pasture height daily at 10 cm intervals from 0 to 100 cm from pre-marked dung pats and from pegged point sources in the non-dung pat plots over a 10-11 day period.

There was no difference in the mean pasture mass of the sheep or deer grazed plots at any stage of the experiment. However both species grazed pasture near pegs (non-dung pat plots) to a lower mean height (P<0.001) than near dung pats although the difference in pasture height was greater for deer than sheep. Pasture height of pasture at 10-20 cm from dung pats grazed by deer was higher than sheep grazed pasture for days 1, and 3-7 of the trial (P<0.001).

The results from this experiment indicated that although deer graze pasture around cattle dung pats, they show more of a preference for grazing further away from dung pats than do sheep. This finding should help to establish the potential for deer to substitute for sheep under mixed grazing situations involving cattle. The paper was well received and associated with interesting questions and follow-up discussions

I would like to sincerely thank the RSNZ (Canterbury Branch) for providing a travel grant as attendance of this conference helped me considerably as a young scientist in enabling me to submit my first referred paper and subsequently presenting it at the annual conference. It was such an enjoyable experience, I plan it certainly will not be my last!!

Proof of my presence in Napier; with the infamous Pania statue which made the headlines late last year for its mysterious disappearance and subsequent recovery!
Craig Trotter in front of the Pania statue in Napier

An illustration of the experimental protocol showing a pegged dung pat and the measuring tool used to measure distance within 100 cm either side of dung pats or pegs.
Illustrating experimental protocol

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