If someone invited me, back in the days I was working on wasps to a meeting that focused entirely on one species, perhaps my much-loved Polistes exclamans, I would have gone readily. That meeting might have covered behavior, ecology, phylogeny, learning, kin recognition, nest building, geographic distribution, ovarian development, dominance, well, things like that. There is no reason there could not be an entire community working on that one species of wasp and its closest relatives. I even wonder if we would not make more progress with some thoughtful focus like that, something the Drosophila people have done, as have the other model organism people.
Now I work on an organism that has an entire meeting devoted to one species, mostly to descendents of one single cell collected so long ago along the Blue Ridge highway. Dictyostelium discoideum NC4 derivatives have thousands of papers devoted to them. The meeting is focused on cell biology, with a lot of biochemistry, development, and recently, a bit of an evolutionary framework, at least based on gene conservation.
You might think that in the 14 years we have been working on this system, we would have learned about the proteins that control movement, development, phagocytosis etc. But we haven’t learned all that much. We are still evolutionary biologists. We still struggle with RAS, STAT, PIP, MAP, and many other systems and their pathways, though we probably have learned more than we think.
To get the most out of the meeting, I have a goal. Here it is to understand what is known about phagocytosis, pathogenesis, and differentiation based on DIF. But I don’t have to choose too much, because there is a single plenary section, with abstracts, and only 32 posters. I can do it all. I’ll just have to be careful to keep looking things up on Wikipedia. I will also meet with lots of collaborators and learn about what others see as important at the shared coffee breaks and meals.
This is a meeting that has no society. There is no president, no governing committee. There is a great stock center and website where the genomes and other resources are housed at Dictybase. I want to see more people taking an evolutionary approach because so much is known about the mechanics of this organism and its simple sociality.