The 62nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology was held Aug. 12-16, 2012, at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC. 725 people registered for the meeting. Excluding exhibitors, over 600 attended the scientific sessions. This meeting was a fabulous opportunity for researchers in various fields of industrial microbiology to meet and learn the newest advances in the field from both academia and industry. Aside from the formal presentations and posters, there was plenty of opportunity to meet colleagues for informal ad-hoc discussions.
The program commenced Sunday evening with a keynote presentation by Professor Jay Keasling, describing advances made at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) on the engineering of plants and microbes for the production of next-generation biofuels from cellulosic materials. This was followed by the first of two poster sessions, where a combined total of 170 posters were exhibited. During the remainder of the conference oral presentation sessions were held in the core areas of Metabolic Engineering, Fermentation and Cell Culture, Natural Products, Biocatalysis, and Environmental Microbiology. Many of the sessions were cross-functional, bringing people together from different disciplines that use a similar technology or approach to address problems in their respective area of research. Among the most popular sessions were biofuels and biochemicals, adaptive evolution in fermentation, and natural product synthesis, structure, and function. New topic areas this year included solid-state fermentation, microbial hydrogen production, metabolic engineering of unconventional organisms, and microbial fuel cells. Special sessions were also held to highlight new technologies with broad application to industrial microbiology and biotechnology: next-generation sequencing, synthetic biology, RNA-based tools, and systems biology.
The conference format was changed slightly from previous years, in that each track only had 5 sessions as opposed to 7, bringing the total number of sessions down from 42 to 32 (including special sessions). The objective of this was to reduce redundancy in presentation topics, reduce scheduling conflicts, increase the attendance at each talk, and increase the overall scientific quality of the meeting. An informal survey of attendees indicated a favorable opinion of the scientific quality of the presentations, and that scheduling conflicts of sessions with similar interest areas were reduced but not completely eliminated. The student oral presentation session was moved to Tuesday late afternoon, to reduce the amount of overlap with other sessions. This resulted in good attendance for the student talks. Finally, the inaugural Women in SIMB session was held to acknowledge the accomplishments of women throughout the history of the Society and to address the challenges of bringing more women into scientific fields.
The conference banquet was held Tuesday evening. Several awards were given, including the student poster and presentation awards renamed in honor of Carol Litchfield. The outgoing SIMB board members were also acknowledged, and the incoming members recognized. The banquet speaker was Dr. Geoff Duyk of TPG Biotech, who discussed the challenges of investment in the biofuels and green technology sector relative to the pharmaceutical and information technology industries. The industrial award lecture was given on Monday afternoon by Raghavan Venkat of Medimmune, and the Charles Thom award lecture on Thursday afternoon by Professor Sang Yup Lee of KAIST. Professor Lee described advances in his laboratory towards the production of a variety of intermediate chemical building blocks by microbial fermentation. Finally, on the lighter side of things, many dedicated runners woke up early for the 5k on Tuesday morning despite the weather.
The exhibit hall was sold out with 54 paid booths, giving increased revenue over prior years. There were several new vendors, particularly in the field of synthetic biology tools. Although we lost one major sponsor, some new sponsors helped bring the sponsorship total to $22,000. With the exhibitors, sponsors and high attendance, the meeting was a financial success for SIMB.
Annual Meeting Program Chair
-Steve Van Dien, Genomatica