Article – The International Society for Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence at Nantes

The International Society  for Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence at NantesDr Valerie Morse

Senior Lecturer, Pembrokeshire College

Nantes education group

The ISBC 20th symposium on bioluminescence and chemiluminescence was held in Nantes France 28at the end of May 2018. The symposium was truly international with speakers from many countries including Finnland, Japan, China, Russia, Belgium and Brazil. There were over 300 delegates and 260 presenters.

The bioluminescence in education section of the meeting, was chaired by Prof Anthony Campbell and Valentina Kratasyuk. Valentina started the session by explaining the master’s programme in bioluminescent biotechnologies at the Siberian Federal University. The programme has been encouraged by Osamu Shimomura who won the Nobel prize for the discovery of GFP in Aequorea. Valentina is part of a famous Russian bioluminescent research group set up by Joseph Gitelson, which also includes Eugene Vitosky.

My presentation In this section, was a power point summary of the “Discovering Living Light” project which I have run over the last 3 years for over 16’s. This project has been delivered as part of the Darwin Centre for Biology and Medicines research programme and has been supported by the Wellcome trust (refer to issue one). My presentation showed the bioluminescence and fluorescent principles and techniques which we have used in the project workshops, together with the links to the current curriculum. I also explained what the pupils who took part in investigative projects had discovered. Images were include showing pupils engaged in “hands on activities” in the lab and conducting fieldwork. Access to the Milford Haven marina was a vital part of the project, so thanks are due to the Milford haven Port authority for allowing this. 

Yuki Oba then summarised the range of bioluminescent organisms found in Japan and their traditional uses e.g. fireflies in containers used as lanterns. EN Harvey records the Japanese collecting fireflies as a popular pastime in his history of bioluminescence (Harvey 1957). Yuki  illustrated his talk by using images of historical woodcut prints, which he collects.

Prof Anthony Campbell explained the aims of this journal the Young Darwinian in encouraging young people across the globe to write scientific articles. There was a great deal of interest in the journal and website at the meeting. At the start of the conference, he also reminded the younger members of the audience about the early meetings of the ISBC.

A South American speaker explained how they are making a genealogy of all the scientists in the field of bioluminescence who were influenced by the work of E.N Harvey at Princeton. This showed the major impact that this founding father of bioluminescence has had on the advancement of our understanding of “Living light”.

In other sections of the conference, I met other speakers with similar interests in the natural history of bioluminescence. These included Jerome Mallefet (Belgium) who gave a fascinating account of bioluminescent sharks. These sharks are relatively small, and have to be captured from freezing Finnish Fjords. Jerome reminded us that the “cookie cutter shark” is actually a very rare species and he has found one only once.

Marcel Koken spoke about French fireflies and his involvement with David Attenborough’s filming of bioluminescent earthworms. Early historical reports of these earthworms glowing had been dismissed and they were recently rediscovered by a lady walking her dogs late at night. This does illustrate how reading the history of bioluminescence and listening to anecdotal reports can lead to major discoveries.

Arja Kaitala explained her research on Finnish glow-worms. Her group have studied how the distance from one female glow-worm to another, effects how bright they glow. This involved the use of LED lights to mimic female glow-worms. There were also a series of interesting presentations on luminous mushrooms including Alexey Kotlobay’s account of the cloning of the fungal luciferase.

On the first day of the conference, there was an interesting plenary discussion about the chemiluminescent intermediate dioxitonine, which acted as a reminder to the audience of the key work of Frank mcCapra and his vital collaboration with prof Anthony Campbell.

I was pleased to note that this is the first scientific conference I have attended where there were as many female speakers as male. Many of the speakers were young scientists at the start of their research careers.

At the end of the conference, it was decided to form an international bioluminescent education group linked to TYD.

Thanks are due to Prof Gerald Thouand and his team for organising the conference. The wonderful food and drinks provided during the conference were an unexpected bonus.  The final conference dinner took place on board a cruise down the river Loire that was a pleasant evening for everyone.

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