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Microbes in a Changing World, San Francisco 2005
The IUMS 2005 Congress “Microbes in a Changing World” was held in San Francisco between 23 and 28 July 2005. This was a joint congress incorporating the XIIIth International Congress of Virology (my chief interest) and conferences on Mycology and Bacteriology/Applied Microbiology. In total, rather less than 3000 people registered, of whom 1200 were virologists. This was felt to be a somewhat disappointing attendance and at times we certainly seemed a little lost within the vast and splendid Moscone Center. Nonetheless, a great deal of interest was packed into the 5 main days of the conference and I was kept busy with the usual mixture of plenary, poster and specialist sessions.
San Francisco is a good venue for a conference, with good international connections and efficient, cheap, local transport including the famous cable cars. The summer weather (dry but with cooling sea breezes) was very comfortable and the city centre abounds with varied places to eat. The local speciality, clam chowder in a sourbread bowl, is certainly to be recommended!
Plant virologists are in a minority at the International Congresses and in this instance, the scheduling of the APS annual meeting in the following week probably discouraged a number of US plant virologists from attending. However, there was enough of interest for a plant virologist during most of the sessions. It would be difficult to extract highlights of general interest from the varied menu of presentations that I attended. The most useful part of such conferences is often the personal contacts made and the conversations around the posters. It was therefore a little frustrating that the vast hall with the posters was only open from 10am until 3pm each day, which rather limited the opportunities to review the posters at leisure. A bonus of attending a wide-ranging conference is that you can sometimes pick up interesting pieces of information from areas quite unrelated to your own research. Did you know, for example, that the virus causing myxomatosis, which is normally restricted to rabbits, infects and kills human cancer cells and is being investigated as a possible therapy?
I now have a substantial interest in plant virus taxonomy and the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) had a strong presence, with a series of posters outlining various proposals under consideration. Having accepted the principle of families, genera and species for viruses some years ago, plant virologists will be interested in ideas to create several orders to group together more distantly related families and genera. Peter Mertens (IAH Pirbright) gave an excellent talk in which he argued the case for an order to include most, or all, of the dsRNA viruses on the basis of structural similarities. Such an order (possibly named Reovirales or Diplornavirales) would include some plant-infecting members. Another idea is to create a family Picornavirales that would group a number of plant viruses (including those in the families Comoviridae and Sequiviridae) with a number of vertebrate viruses. The current suggestion is to include only those viruses with isometric particles. This would exclude species in the family Potyviridae, which have filamentous particles and a slightly different genome organisation but which have often been considered members of a picorna-like “superfamily”. A third possible order, proposed by Roger Hull, would group all the reverse-transcribing viruses (including the plant-infecting pararetroviruses classified in the family Caulimoviridae) into the Retrovirales. All these proposals are open for public discussion on the ICTVnet web site and it is hoped that they will be discussed carefully by the whole community.
Tools for examining and analysing virus sequences are of great importance as the amount of data continues to grow exponentially. Several presentations addressed these issues directly or indirectly. Apart from our own plant virus efforts at www. DPVweb. net, there were also presentations of the latest tools available from NCBI. Their web site is rather complicated but is continually changing and is worth exploring from time to time. Some great tools are also available at the Viral Bioinformatics Resource Centre (www. biovirus. org); this site is devoted to important human pathogens but the tools are transferable and are well worth a look.
I am grateful to the BSPP for a travel grant that helped me attend this conference. The next one in the series is scheduled for Istanbul, 11-15 August 2008.
Mike Adams Rothamsted Research