Scientific Impact. This NSF grant will fund travel awards for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and some starting investigators who lack funding, to attend the 2011 Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Conference to be held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison from August 2-7, 2011. Applicants will be recruited by advertisements in scientific journals and direct emails to past and probable conference attendees. The advertisement directs the recipient to the conference web site (, which contains instructions for applying for a travel grant. All applicants for the travel awards are required to submit an abstract for an oral or poster presentation and a letter outlining financial need. The applications and abstracts are reviewed by the conference organizers, who award travel grants based on scientific merit and financial need. The Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages conference is the direct descendent of the original ?phage meetings? organized by Delbruck, Luria, Hershey, and colleagues in the 1940s, and thus is the oldest scientific gathering focused on prokaryotic molecular biology. The conference site now alternates between its historical home at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. While the focus of the meeting has expanded over the years, it still remains dedicated to the problem-oriented philosophy of the physicists, chemists, and microbiologists who founded the meeting. The conference provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of the latest research findings and technical advances in modern prokaryotic molecular biology. It is the primary scientific meeting for many laboratories working with prokaryotes, and when held in Madison, the average attendance is over 325. A central aspect and major attraction of the meeting is the breadth of the research presented, ranging from basic phage genetics to organismal genomics/proteomics, from atomic level structure-function analyses to microbial cell biology, from single-molecule biochemistry to viral self-assembly, and from host interactions to ecology and evolution. The diversity of research areas is mirrored by the diversity of organisms investigated, including model organisms as well as environmentally and medically relevant bacteria and phages. Broader Educational Impact. A key objective of the meeting is to provide a broad educational experience for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other young scientists who constitute over half of the attendees of the meeting. Nearly all the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows attending this meeting give a poster or oral presentation. It is one of the few remaining open-program meetings, where the majority of the oral presentations are selected from submitted abstracts and all of the vibrant poster sessions run for the entire meeting. Consequently, most of the presentations are given by the people actually performing the research. In addition, leading scientists are invited to present comprehensive introductions to the 10 scientific sessions and short talks on their own works. The session chairs represent a mixture of established senior investigators and prominent emerging investigators at earlier stages of their careers. Two keynote lectures will also given by world-renowned scientists, Dr. Carol Gross and Dr. John Roth. The session leaders and keynote speakers remain on site for the entire meeting. As such, scientific experts are always in the audience, which ensures high scientific standards and critical yet supportive questioning and commentary at the conclusion of talks. The close proximity of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior and senior faculty generates a unique atmosphere for scientific interactions. The organizers take into account gender balance and try to include as many minority scientists as possible as session chairs and presenters. Some of the most important findings in the field of bacterial and phage molecular genetics are presented and discussed yearly at this meeting.

Project Report

Meeting Description. This grant from the NSF was used for travel support for 27 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in domestic laboratories to attend the 2011 Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages meeting from August 2, 2011-August 7, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. The meeting had 340 attendees (of 350 registrants) that consisted of a mix of domestic and international faculty, graduate students, research associates, and postdoctoral fellows. About 50% of the attendees registered as students. The meeting consisted of a bioinformatics workshop, ten oral sessions of about 9 talks each presented by invited session chairs and speakers drawn from submitted abstracts, extensive poster sessions containing over 170 posters that lasted the entire time of the meeting, two longer talks presented by Nat Sternberg Prize winners for best Ph.D. thesis in prokaryotic biology in the preceding two years, and two longer keynote addresses by prominent scientists. The talks and poster sessions covered a wide-range of topics in bacterial and phage molecular genetics, including bacteriophage, cell signaling and cell surfaces, development and social interactions, DNA replication, recombination, and transposition, ecology and evolution. global regulation and stress responses, host interactions, pathogenesis, physiology and metabolism, systems biology, bioinformatics, and genomics, and transcription, translation, and posttranscriptional regulation. Criteria for Travel Awards. All NSF Travel Award recipients presented oral talks or posters at the meeting. Several criteria were used to select travel award recipients. Requests for travel awards required descriptions of projects and need from candidates. Faculty mentors were required to verify requests and recommend candidates from their laboratories. All completed requests and abstracts from domestic candidates were of sufficiently high quality that the organizers decided to distribute the funding to allow the maximum number of travel awards. The final amounts awarded were based on need, current funding levels from the NSF and NIH to the mentor laboratories, and distance to the meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. The 27 awards ranged from $70 to $500. Opportunities for training, development, and mentoring. This meeting is one of the few remaining for students and postdoctoral fellows to present their work in a rigorous, but highly constructive atmosphere. Except for the session chairs, Sternberg Prize winners and keynote speakers, all oral presentations are drawn from the submitted abstracts. This format contrasts with that of most other current meetings at which almost all of the speakers are invited in advance. The organizers, who read all of the submitted abstracts and set the program, made an effort to balance the oral presentations to include a large proportion of high quality talks by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In general, the talks by students and postdoctoral fellows were well presented and well received. In addition, this meeting had extensive discussions after each talk by members of the audiences. These discussions tended to be constructive and helpful, rather than overly critical and negative. The poster sessions at this meeting were equally important in providing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows opportunities to present their work. There were formal poster sessions with presentations. But unlike most meetings, the posters were left up the entire time of the meeting. Therefore, many more people had time to view a large number of posters and discuss the work informally with the presenters. Outreach. Considerable effort was made to ensure gender balance of session chairs, session speakers, and keynote speakers. The organizers were very successful in meeting this goal. As much as possible, session chairs and speakers were chosen from underrepresented minorities. Although scientifically intensive and rigorous, this is a nurturing meeting that exposes all attendees, but especially students and postdoctoral fellows, to lively, constructive discussions of their work. Reporting and feedback. The tradition of this meeting is to provide contact information for all participants, and an abstract book is printed and distributed to all participants. However, to encourage disclosure of unpublished, new work, the abstract book is not distributed on-line. The meeting does not generate a published conference report. In 2011, a formal survey was sent to all participants about their meeting experience. The 2011 meeting received very favorable comments and was well received. The prokaryotic research community recognizes that the Madison meeting has become the premier event for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to present and discuss their work. Summary. This NSF grant played a critical role in supporting this important scientific meeting. The NSF travel support gave many excellent graduate students and postdoctoral fellows a chance to present their work and to meet with senior scientists. By using the NSF funding to support travel from domestic labs, other support from private companies could be used to support some of the travel for international students and postdoctoral fellows. This combined support allowed the meeting to reach its size of 340-350, cover most current topics in prokaryotic microbiology, and involve many labs from inside and outside of the USA.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)
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Susanne von Bodman
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Indiana University
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