Happy duck trap day!

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Yesterday, while fiddling around with some data for a government report I realized it was exactly fourteen years ago we opened the doors to the duck trap at Ottenby and started our surveillence program of influenza A virus in waterfowl. Fourteen years – and our fifteenth autumn season! That’s pretty good for a field series in ecology, and very, very good for influenza A virus surveillance in wild birds.

So happy duck trap day to all of you duck trappers (many, many), students (four PhD students, a good number of master- and undergraduate students), postdocs (four postdocs) and collaborators (from Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, France, UK, US, Chile and elsewhere) – without you this wouldn’t been possible. And a big thanks to various funding agencies for supporting this work along the road.

Time flies, and so does the birds – and the viruses.

Memories of stromatolites

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Some twenty plus years ago, I attended my very first lecture at Uppsala University. It was a strange mix of anxiety and anticipation that flooded through me as I went up the stairs to the theatre on the top of the Zoology building. Although I was certain that I wanted to study biology, I had no clue as to what university studies really were. It turned out they were a bit scary, at first.

As the lecture room had filled up and the lights dimmed, a guest professor spent the next hour speeding through a fact specked presentation in accented English and with PowerPoint slides in Spanish. I think he was pretty famous in his field, but it was somewhat wasted on us as most had never listened to a lecture in English before, let alone had any prior knowledge on the beauty of fossilized bacterial stromatolites. But as the days went pass, turned into weeks and later months and years, my interest in biology grew steady from that point, fueled by a series of great lecturers and by friends that shared my passion.

Yesterday I was back at my Alma Mater for a thesis defense, climbed the same set of stairs and entered the room that once was so intimidating. Funny, though, it was much smaller than I remembered it to be; just an ordinary medium sized lecture room. And not a single stromatolite to be seen.

Bavarian farmers and avian immunology

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I spent most of last week enjoying the warm autumn weather at the Bavarian Farmers’ Association meeting venue in the little town Herrsching, an hour’s train ride outside Munich. And no, I have not become a farmer, and definitely not a Bavarian farmer – the reason I went there was to visit the biannual workshop of the Avian Immunology Research Group and learn more on the intricacies of birds’ immune systems. And when I say birds I actually mean chickens, as the ancestors of the little Red Junglefowl is the avian version of the mouse model and one of the world’s most important protein sources.

It was a fabulously well-organized meeting, bringing together around 150 or so scientists. Lots of immunology stuff. Lots of advanced immunology stuff, to be honest – way more advanced than that I and my eco-immunology friends do. Actually, this was the main message I brought home: that we ecologists have so much to learn from the immunology people, and vice versa.

In our duck research, we dabble with immunology a bit – but the tools offered in chicken immunology are not yet available to us. There were beautiful slides with immunohistochemistry, tables with cell counts based on flow cytometry, immortal and primary cell lines, antibodies of all kinds, protein structures, custom made inbred chicken lines (including the MacRed breed), and widespread use of transcriptomics, genomics and whatnotomics. It was truly amazing.

Starting as avian ecologist and later branching out into disease ecology I have over the years attended many bacteriology and virology conferences. The one thing that always strikes me is how little conference jumping there is. Ecologists tend to go to ecology conferences (which there are many, with varying degree of specialization), virologists go to virology meetings, campylobacter folks go to campylobacter meetings, and so on and so forth. Partly this is because of different training and research interests, but perhaps it is also partly because of old habits, where the prospects of meeting up with old friends and colleagues is as strong an incentive as the actual science part of the conference.

As a satellite meeting, the duck crowd met up and spent an extra day discussing where to head next in duck immunology. And there is loads of cool stuff we can do, and that we hope to do. Especially if we get more funding.

Needless to say, I had a great time, and even drank a few German beers and dined on knödel and schnitzel – as one should. Back in the lab I have to deal with the backlog of emails and manuscript, but science wise I feel ready to level up my immunology branch of duck disease ecology. In fact, in a week or two I will write a piece on our upcoming innate immune paper on Mallards. Stay tuned.