Genomics of Energy and the Environment: Conference Report

  • Jade O’Leary

I am writing this blog shortly after the closing of the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) Genomics of Energy and the Environment Meeting in the beautiful Walnut Creek, California. I have to say that I thought the conference was brilliant, showcasing the range of technologies available at the JGI and the projects that it has supported.

The JGI is a Department of Energy (DOE) funded user facility focused on large-scale sequence-based genomic projects that address questions related to sustainable biofuel production, global carbon cycling and biogeochemistry. Particularly interesting is their Fungal Genomics Program which via projects such as the 1000 Fungal Genomes Project is delving into the depths of the diversity of the fungal kingdom.

One the first day of the meeting (my favourite day) I attended a workshop hosted by Igor Grigoriev (Fungal Genomics program lead) where we learnt about the development of the fungal program and the spectrum of genomics and other omics technologies available at the JGI. Talks consisted of explanations of the technologies as well as examples of projects executed using these technologies. Jonathan Plett (Western Sydney University) talked about his project assessing the transcriptomic response of Pisolithus spp. when in association with host plants, and explained the importance of expanding the scope of genome sequencing to sequencing multiple genomes of single species to reduce isolation of genetic diversity. We also learnt about FICUS (Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science), the formally named Joint JGI-EMSL program, under which we currently have a project running that I am working on at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) in Washington. The FICUS program enables researchers to combine the power of genomics and molecular characterisation into one proposed research project.

The rest of the conference involved fascinating talks and posters from JGI and/or EMSL users who had completed projects under the user program. A personal highlight of mine was a talk from NASA scientist Mary Voytek on using microbial metagenome science to understand soil functioning on Earth with the aim of one day applying that knowledge to colonise non-functioning soils of planets and moons on our solar system and beyond. The evening of the 3rd day provided us with the very exciting opportunity to visit and tour the JGI facilities. We saw up close the cutting-edge technologies available such as PacBio, HiSeq and MiSeq, and Oxford NanoPore sequencers as well as the metabolomics capabilities, and heard from the scientists who use the instruments daily.

Over all I thought it was a very enlightening meeting providing me with the opportunity to learn A LOT about genomics and other omics technologies as well as the chance to discuss our own FICUS project and meet some very influential people from the world of genome science.

Jade O’Leary’s poster describing our FICUS project at the JGI Genomics of Energy and Environment Meeting