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.

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