Last week (5th to 6th November 2015) I had the great privilege and pleasure to attend an aphid conference in Paris – my favourite insects and my favourite city – heaven! The conference was mainly organised by our French colleagues from INRA, under the direction of Jean-Christophe Simon with help from Richard Harrington, recently retired from Rothamsted Research, and a tiny bit of input from me.
The meeting was held at the Societe Nationale D’Horticulture De France, a building cunningly hidden away down a long passageway off the Rue de Grenelle which debuts into a small courtyard where I found the main entrance and was reassured by the sight of the
organisers feverishly getting name tags ready (I was very early as had thought it would take longer to walk there than it actually did) and
a suitably amusingly appropriate sign on the door.
I was greeted enthusiastically by Jean-Christophe, caused a bit of a hiatus by having to have my name badge located and was then pointed gently, but firmly at the coffee 🙂
The rest of the delegates began to arrive some twenty minutes later or so and shortly after we were ushered into the lecture theatre, which was very full.
After getting over the shock of being told that there was no Wifi available (that put paid to my plans for Tweeting), I settled down to enjoy the morning. The conference began with an invited presentation from Takema Fukatsu from Japan who gave us an overview on symbiosis, evolution and biodiversity. This was then followed by two shorter talks of 12.5 minutes each leading us into the first coffee break. One of the great things about this conference was, that apart from the plenary presentation, all talks were restricted to 10 minutes with 2.5 minutes for questions. This meant that we got to hear 40 (yes forty) talks over the two days and that we had refreshment breaks every 75 minutes, (the coffee was excellent). The refreshment breaks were half an hour long, and lunch was an hour, thus giving delegates plenty of time to mix and chat about their work.
There were just over a 100 delegates coming from eight different countries, although as one might expect, most were from France and the UK. It was great to see so many people working on aphids, although not all could be described as “aphidologists” sensu stricto, but I am sure that everyone there would be happy to be included under that description as sensu lato 🙂 Sadly in the UK the number of aphidologists has declined greatly since I was a student, especially those working on their ecology and morphotaxonomy.
The focus of the talks and posters, of which there were 21, was predominantly on the interactions of aphids with their host plants and natural enemies. The role of symbionts in these interactions and the molecular mechanisms involved was especially highlighted, in particular those involved with the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Aproximately 40% of the talks were on the pea aphid, and a further 28% on the most pestiferous aphid in the world, Myzus persicae and its ability to develop resistance to pesticides. Although I find aphid symbionts fascinating, I am a bit concerned that they and the pea aphid seem to be taking over the world! Given the number of talks, I am not going to review them all. For those interested the full programme and abstracts can be found here. Highlights for me were Christoph Vorburger from ETH who gave an entertaining talk about the effect that endosymbionts have in protecting aphids against parasitoids, and making me feel old, Ailsa McLean from Oxford University, whom I first met when she was in her pram (she is the daughter of Ian Mclean with whom I shared a lab when we were PhD students). I was also very pleased to be chairing the session in which Charles Dedryver (now retired) was speaking about the history of aphidology. I was less happy that I had to cut his talk short, but my duties left me no other choice 🙂 Despite Charles and I exchanging reprints for almost 40 years, this was the first time that we had ever come face to face.
All in all a fantastic conference and many congratulations to the team from INRA for organising it so well. My one concern, which I touched upon earlier was the predominance of the pea aphid as a model organism and the overriding focus on the molecular aspects of the various interactions. I find it a little worrying that I can find statements in papers such as “This is an exciting time for pea aphid biologists” (Brisson, 2010), which hardly indicates a broad viewpoint. As a further indication of an overly narrow focus, during the breaks it was noticeable that of the people who ventured outside, I was the only one turning leaves over and looking for aphids, the others were indulging their nicotine habits.
It is important that as aphidologists, entomologists and ecologists we do not lose sight of the big picture.
Brisson, J.A. (2010) Aphid wing dimorphisms: linking environmental and genetic control of trait variation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365, 60-616
Sensu stricto in the narrow sense; Sensu lato broadly speaking
A non-entomological post script
The added bonus of having the conference in Paris was that my wife had an excuse to pop over for the weekend and I was able to extend my visit. The weather was fantastic and we had a great time eating, drinking and seeing as many sights as we could fit in. Luckily the weather was glorious.
My favourite sort of pudding – Café Gourmand (at Le Café Gourmand)
We rode the funicular to the top of Montmartre, something which despite having visited Paris at least once a year for the last 15 years or so, we had never done. Then after visiting the Montmartre Museum, we walked down to the cemetery. Paris has some great cemeteries and we never miss the chance to see what curiosities we can find.
A psychoanalyst with a macabre sense of humour Dr. Guy Pitchal (1922-1989), Psychoanalyst known for working with many French celebrities — including the singer Dalida, who is buried nearby.
The Great Nijinsky – looking a bit fed-up?
Emile Zola – we came across his magnificent tomb entirely by accident, after taking a wrong flight of stairs.
Cancan dancer extraordinaire, La Goulue (The Glutton).
Robert Mayet – Inventor of the moped
Looking for somewhere to eat on Saturday evening we came across a number of shops already preparing for Christmas.
Christmas will apparently soon be with us!
Bees get everywhere – no idea what this was about but saw it as we were heading for the Eurostar.