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Research Conferences are Cool! April 25, 2010

Posted by ecogeeko10 in Behavior, Biology, Ecology, Evolution, Genetics, Neuroscience, Physiology.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Association of Southeastern Biologists’ 71st Annual meeting held in Asheville, North Carolina. This is a pretty neat conference because every year over 1000 biologists get together and present the research that they have been working on in the past year.  The reason why I made the trip is because I did a poster presentation for my research on beaver dredged canal function and development. However, the types of questions that other researchers addressed ranged from topics such as the role of estradiol in courtship displays of Collared Manakins to the best management techniques for mountain lions in New Mexico. This conference was definitely geared towards a wide range of interests.

One particular oral presentation that I attended and thought was pretty interesting was by a graduate student named Jennifer Carman from Western Carolina University. In her study, she was investigating the morphological variation in song sparrows. What was so fascinating about this research, though, was that she was seeing real/statistically significant morphological differences between birds in rural areas and birds in urban areas. Just as Charles Darwin saw that there were many variations in the beaks of finches on the Galapagos Islands, Jennifer was seeing that the urban populations of song sparrows had larger and strong beaks than the rural populations that are just a few miles down the road. What’s more, the urban birds seemed to be much bolder than their neighbors. Jennifer was sure to let us know that this is only a preliminary study, but she is hoping to eventually find out what is causing these morphological differences. Are the urban population exposed to different food sources that require stronger beaks? She is also interested in seeing if the urban populations have higher levels of testosterone. If so, how are these populations benefiting from being more aggressive? I am interested to see how this study turns out.

A second talk that I thought was interesting actually relates a lot with what we have been doing in our own molecular genetics class. In the presentation, titled Detection of Misidentified Plants in the International Cocoa Geneback, Trinidad, James Bardsley (Towson University-Maryland) explained how he and his class used SSR analysis in order to find that 31 out of the 123 individual cocoa plants that they brought back from Trinidad were actually mislabeled. The reason for this high level of error comes from the fact that breeders are constantly trying to create new hybrids with desired characteristics. For instance, one person may decide that he was to create a crop that has a high yield and is disease resistant. He would achieve this by obtaining a “high yield” gene and a “disease resistant” gene from the gene bank and then breed them into the crop of interest. This constant intermixing of genes makes for much difficulty when trying to tell plants apart. Many of these hybrids have very similar morphological characteristics! James and his lab proved that the best way to fix this problem is to utilize molecular techniques when trying to identify a species. This is indeed a relatively expensive technique, but it is unfair that the consumers are being sold the incorrect product 25% of the time. Hopefully the cocoa companies takes this information to heart.

I’m really happy about being given the chance to attend one of these meetings. I was able to gain experience in presenting my own work, I was able to network with other scientists in the field, and I was able to learn about some pretty cool studies that are going on around the country. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in research should go to a conference like this because they are great resources for anyone who wants to get their name out there so that they can obtain a job or go on to graduate school. This meeting was definitely worth the eight-hour drive!


1. Dr. O - April 26, 2010

Awesome job, Matt! So glad you got so much out of your trip! Facilitating undergraduate research experiences out of the classroom and within the real realm of current scientific research is priceless.

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