Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch
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Travel Grant Reports 2011

December

25th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) organised by the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). Auckland. December 2011

Laura Young, University of Canterbury.

I was delighted to receive a travel grant from the RSNZ Canterbury Branch to attend the popular and highly-regarded International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) organised by the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). Held in Auckland during December 2011, this was the 25th ICCB and the first time this conference has been hosted in New Zealand -- (originally the conference was to be held in Christchurch but due to the devastating effects of the February earthquakes this was no longer a possibility). It was a great relief to still be able to attend through the assistance of the travel grant and for this I am extremely grateful.

ICCB was an inspiring event, filled with many great talks and encouraging conservation success stories from around the globe. It was an excellent opportunity to connect with the like-minded passionate community of conservation professionals and students to share how science can help to conserve biodiversity on Earth. As well as learning a great deal about the successful conservation efforts from all over the world, many of the talks were -- as one would expect from a conservation conference -- depressing and eye-opening, with universal declines in species, changes in ecological processes and patterns through climate change, habitat loss and invasion. ICCB was also a highly personal event for many as the conference theme 'Engaging Society in Conservation / Te Whenua, Te Moana, Te Papa Atawhai Whakamaua ki Tina' encouraged talks which placed society and culture at the forefront of successful conservation -- for me and I'm sure many others, it highlighted that without the core understanding and input from communities, conservation work would not happen in many places. Humans have been largely responsible for the loss of species and habitats but can also be responsible for reversing this trend. Our job is to encourage and initiate this. There were dozens of conference-associated activities such as workshops, conservation films, 'learn over lunch' sessions, field trips, poster evenings, ceremonies and awards dinners, maximising the chances to learn and share. What I really enjoyed was the broad diversity of the content which encompassed every imaginable ecosystem type from marine to alpine environments. It was also heartening to be part of the huge collaborative efforts among the global conservation community to learn from each other and build plans and visions and design criteria for preserving Earth?s biodiversity. Seeing so many other young conservation scientists there was also encouraging.

I presented the findings from my research recently published in the journal Biological Conservation about the importance of kea -- the world's only mountain parrot -- for its role in essential ecosystem processes such as seed dispersal. The New Zealand mountain flora is unusually high in fleshy-fruited plant species; these fruits are adapted for seed dispersal by animals. Seed dispersal is a vital ecological process because it facilitates genetic connectivity between fragmented populations (e.g. alpine areas), and promotes long-term species survival. Extinctions and declining populations of remaining native fruit-eating bird species is likely to have reduced levels of seed dispersal for many plant species. Without kea (which are declining - the estimated remaining population is <5000), the movement of subalpine and alpine fleshy-fruit plant species would be very limited, with little flow between plant populations on different mountain ranges. I showed that kea are responsible for most of the consumption of fruit and dispersal (number of different species and numbers of seeds) in these mountain ecosystems (more than all other bird species combined), dispersed the most seeds intact (a highly unusual behaviour for any parrot in a global context, as most parrots predate seeds, destroying them through feeding on the seed embryo rather than the fruit itself), and are probably the only birds making regular long-distance movements between mountain ranges. Combined, these attributes make kea essential keystone seed dispersers. If kea populations continue to decline however, this may have serious flow-on effects to plant species which rely on having their seeds dispersed by kea. The talk was well received and many interesting points were made in the discussion at the end, particularly in relation to the historic and present-day human-kea conflict and how this could be resolved.


September

18th IEEE International Conference on Image Processing, in Brussels, Belgium, 11 - 14 Sept 2011.

Alex Opie, PhD candidate, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Canterbury

I want to very warmly thank the Canterbury Branch of the RSNZ for supporting me with a travel grant to attend this conference.

My research is in the field of medical imaging, specifically computed tomography (CT). I am working on reconstructions from two separate types of data: energy-resolved data, which is a relatively new advance in x-ray detector technology; and spatially truncated data, which can happen in a number of scenarios, including trying to limit radiation exposure and when imaging large patients.

My paper for this conference was in the field of reconstruction from spatially truncated data, known as interior reconstruction. The problem has no unique solution in the general case, but some recently published results have suggested that having some prior knowledge of a small region of the cross-section to be reconstructed can enable a reconstruction. Since true prior knowledge of this image of interest is uncommon, the information must be estimated based on some measured data which will inevitably contain errors. My paper investigated what effect these errors would have on the reconstruction. I found that the reconstruction was most sensitive to errors in the mean value of the prior knowledge, whereas errors in the details were less damaging. The paper was accepted as a poster presentation.

The conference subject was image processing, into which my research falls squarely. There were a couple of sessions on topics involving CT, so it was interesting to see what research other people are undertaking in this field. It was also very interesting to learn more about current topics in other parts of the image processing domain, including 3D voxel carving, all kinds of filtering, and some segmentation and recognition. A lot of the talks were well presented, and the large poster sessions had good attendance and allowed people to see many papers quite quickly. I found several that warranted further reading. There were four plenary lectures that were very well presented and very interesting.

Brussels itself was wonderful. It was my first visit to Europe, and the place is just amazing. The beer was delicious, as were the waffles and chocolate! Thanks again for your generous support of my attendance at this conference.


August

Molecular Biology Biointeractions Meeting, 28-29th August, 2011

Frances Huisman, University of Canterbury

I am a final-year PhD student in Biochemistry at the University of Canterbury. On the 28-29th August (2011) I had the pleasure of attending the Queenstown Molecular Biology (QMB) Biointeractions meeting. The QMB meetings are held every year and are arguably New Zealand?s biggest annual scientific gathering. These meetings take the form of a core QMB conference surrounded by several small satellite meetings on diverse topics such as cell signalling, developmental biology and epigenetics.

The QMB Biointeractions satellite meeting I attended represented only two days of the seven-day gathering but provided an excellent range of seminars, by national and international speakers, on the interactions and structure of proteins and small molecules. I particularly enjoyed the talks on the subject of biointeractions and health, such as that given by Prof. Michael Hecht of Princeton University on the causes and potential cures of Alzheimer's disease.

At this conference I presented a poster on my investigations into the structure and function of the protein a-isopropylmalate synthase. This enzyme is a component in leucine biosynthesis in plants and bacteria, and is a potential antibiotic drug target. My poster concerned the importance of a regulatory domain that is located well away from the site of catalysis in the protein, yet is strictly necessary for this catalysis to take place. I presented several crystal structures of whole proteins and proteins engineered to lack this regulatory domain, and compared these to determine key structural elements critical for enzyme activity. I also presented a simple and interesting experiment that substituted the native E. coli synthase gene with my engineered genes, showing that E. coli cells will not grow without the intact synthase. This poster seemed to be well received by those attending as it explored issues of protein domains, a topic that had been mentioned several times in the conference seminars.

As a PhD student coming to the end of my studies I found this conference very interesting. This is the first conference I have been to that was entirely dedicated to my scientific field, and quite clearly put my research into context within national and international studies. I feel this context is invaluable at this stage of my degree as it will enable me to write a better and more well-rounded thesis.

On the whole this conference was informative and well organised. The speakers were of a consistently high calibre and I am very grateful to the RSNZ, Canterbury Branch for providing me with a generous travel grant to attend.


June

25th International Symposium on Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism and Function (BRAIN 2011), in Barcelona, Spain, 20 June 2011

Hannah Farr, Centre for Bioengineering, University of Canterbury, New Zealand and Van der Veer Institute for Parkinsonís and Brain Research, Christchurch, New Zealand

I would like to thank the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for the financial support which enabled me to attend the 25th International Symposium on Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism and Function (BRAIN 2011), in Barcelona, Spain.

BRAIN provides a forum for a diverse group of leading international brain researchers and professionals to present the latest available information, research, and treatments in fields such as cerebrovascular regulation, brain imaging, ischemia/stroke, neurotrauma, and brain protection.

Overview of Conference Presentations

The quality of the oral presentations from both young scientists and well established researchers was superb. The conference consisted of a combination of workshops, oral sessions, poster sessions, and special symposiums.

On the first day of the conference, I attended a workshop that was specifically focused on neurovascular coupling (my area of research). The highlight was the last speaker of the day: Elizabeth Hillman from Columbia Univeristy, who has penned many articles that I have used while developing my model. Not only was she a leader in her field of optical imaging of the cerebrovasculature, and an excellent and enthusiastic speaker, but she was very willing to discuss her new unpublished results and hypotheses. Although she was an experimentalist by trade, she had applied simple mathematical models to help understand the reasons behind the brainís complex regulatory mechanisms. She was kept busy with questions for most of the conference but I was lucky to be able to discuss my own model with her as she was leaving on the very last day! She was keen to see the results I am planning to publish next month.

Another highlight was the plenary lecture given by Berislav Zlokovic who spoke on the neurovascular pathways to neurodegenerationóa topic which forms the focus of one of my thesis chapters.

Personally, I found that the poster sessions were more helpful than the oral sessions, perhaps because they tended to include very new and unpublished work. This newer research seemed to cover a wider range of research methods (including mathematical modelling) to help elucidate the hidden mechanisms involved in the brainís metabolism and function.

My Presentation

I presented one poster at this conference: Potassium and EET mediated functional hyperemia: a mathematical model. A copy of the presented poster is attached.

Most questions I received were asked by researchers who are also involved in various kinds of modelling. It was fascinating to see the very different methods we had employed to try and understand the same mystery: how and why the brain has decided to regulate its blood supply in such a complex way. We traded modelling tips, references and hypotheses and have promised to continue to exchange information as we progress with our models.

Attending the conference was a very positive experience. I was exposed to exciting, new research and established new connections with fellow researchers. Once again I would like to thank the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for supporting me in this worthwhile experience.


June

International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology (ISRCAP) conference, Chicago, USA. 15-18 June 2011

Rachel Harrison, University of Canterbury

I attended the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology (ISRCAP) conference on 15-18th June 2011. The conference was in Chicago, United States of America. I am currently in my seventh year of study at the University of Canterbury and am studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology. I begin my internship in February 2012. My Masters Thesis was submitted in August of this year.

At the ISRCAP conference, I presented a poster on my Masters research. My research examined the effects of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on psychiatric symptoms in adolescents. The study trialed a micronutrient formula, EMPowerplus, with five adolescents aged 16-21. Participants had severe mood dysregulation and co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses i.e. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, other anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. An ABAB (off-on-off-on) research design was employed. Baseline data was collected followed by an open-label trial (8 weeks) of the micronutrients. Participants subsequently stopped the micronutrients for 8 weeks followed by a reinstatement of the micronutrients for a longer period of time (up to 24 weeks). Clinically significant improvements in mood, ADHD symptoms, and anxiety were documented in most participants. Subsequent deterioration in psychiatric symptoms was found when participants came off the micronutrients. The results provided some evidence that micronutrients may be an effective treatment for adolescents with severe mood dysregulation. Of significant clinical interest, side-effects, if present at all, were only minor and transitory.

This research was very relevant at the ISRCAP conference given its focus this year on 'innovative translational models in developmental psychopathology'. My research examined an innovative approach to the treatment of adolescent psychopathology. It was also related to a conference symposium in which a paper was presented on micronutrient treatment studies. The poster stimulated interest at the conference.

The conference was of great benefit to my learning and career in clinical psychology. There were some very interesting presentations from which I learnt a lot. I was informed of recent research on child and adolescent psychopathology and engaged in stimulating discussions with presenters. I found the poster presentations very interesting and it was a great opportunity to meet other clinical psychology students and academics. The conference provided me with the opportunity to network. I really enjoyed meeting well-known and respected researchers in my field. The conference was an extremely valuable experience and I am very grateful for your financial support.

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