Monday, September 1, 2008


ICAR. No, that’s not a new Apple product. It is the acronym for the international conference on Arabidopsis Research. I have been attending it since Wednesday (23rd July 2008). Tomorrow (Sunday) will be the last date. It’s really been quite an experience. Anyway, I’ll try to begin from the beginning.

We drove for seven hours to Montreal. It surprisingly close. I thought it would take several days to get here from NY by car. lol! Shows you how smart I am. Anyway, the customs didn't really pose a problem and I was really delighted to be amongst signs that featured extra U''ss and re's instead of er in the word centre. Yes, Canada is part of the British commonwealth and I began to feel absolutely at home, despite the fact that the car still drove on the right side of the road. That fact disappointed me, but Dr. Hobie heaved a sigh of relief. I don't know why he did that because he was here previously and knew that already. He did it anyway. Oops, I forgot to introduce the cast of characters. There' s Dr. Hobbie, me, and this sri lankan graduate student called Mederian Kotuwale Achala Jayasen. I believe she has a fifth name as well, but it escapes me. She dearly seeks to reduce her names to a manageable two or three. I pointed out that she was bloody lucky to have only five names. A very very famous sri lankan bowler's name is Chaminda Vaas. However, that isn't his whole name. There are 46 other names in between the Chaminda and the Vass ("Hmm....what was my name again?").

When we got into
montreal proper, I had to become responsible. Dr. Hobbie handed me the directions and I had to help him navigate to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the conference is being held. I had some fun with the french names, but I was happy to see that my pronounciation wasn't as spectacularly off as it was in the german class. In fact, I think my seventh grade french teacher would be positively proud of me. Whether it be Jeanne-mance or renee- levesque boulevard. I kept my end up! Anyhow, we reached the hotel and I saw lots of chappies with banners with the letters CSN on them. I naturally assumed that they were part of some sport fan group. However, on arrival we were informed that they were, in fact, hotel staff that were on strike and were being negotiated with. Consequently, there was no parking service and we had to sort through the sorties (exits) and the entrees (entrys) to the Stationment des Jardins (parking space of the Garden mall within the hotel). I was quite happy to see that I could decipher the bloody french signs after a fashion. I suggested to Dr. Hobbie that Canada could save tonnes of money by adopting English as its sole official language and print boards only in English. However, I don't think that's happening since Canadians are like the Nepalese of North America. They're dependent on the US in many ways, but will never admit and insist on maintaining a disparate identity.

For some bloody weird reason, the hotel had 6 floors and from the 6th floor, you could take another escalator to floors 1-17, completely different from the ones we had just encountered. Anyhow, we managed to find our way around and after an ice-cream (for which we paid US dollars and got canadian dollars instead)., we went in for the first talk. This talk is by a guy who you consider to have no life since he established my weed as a model genetic organism. It was spectacular. He talked about how ethanol is not the future due to its inefficiency and how we can use other crops and processes to manage our energy requirements. It was fascinating, particularly, because if I do a Ph.D, then this is one of the fields I would consider working in. Anyway, we have set up our posters and found our way to the McGill residence hall. Honestly, this hall looks amazingly like a hotel. My room-mate is an asian post-doctoral chap called Mingje Chen. I didn't want to ask if he was from
China, but I think he is. He seems to know a little bit about my work so that's good. I always thought I did very obscure work in the lab, but most of the posters I saw today are on Auxin and I actually met some of the people whose scientific papers I had read last year during my independent study. It was a great pleasure to shale their hands. However, if I meet a particular guy called Benfey, I'll make sure I wring his hand hard for all the torture his paper inflicted on my brain cells. It was horribly complex and neither Dr. Hobbie nor I could make head or tail of his work.

The highlight of the conference, for me, was a meeting with Dr. Malcolm Bennett who works in the University of Nottingham and is also working on the AXR4 gene. I had seen him speak earlier on and he actually gave one of the best presentations in the conference. At least, that’s the way it appeared to me. Having read the paper he presented might have helped my understanding and enhanced my enjoyment of his talk.We talked for a few minutes during the poster sessions and we discussed auxin transport modelling. Last year, there had been a paper, by Dr. Ben Scheres of Utrecht, in which auxin import proteins were considered of negligible importance. That paper outraged my sensibilities (no surprise because I spend a lot of time working on an auxin-import related gene) and I had protested to the author directly. Malcolm agreed with me and explained why Dr. Scheres’s model worked despite this royally flawed assumption. Apparently, physiological parameters for auxin permittivity had not been adhered to. It was heartening to be vindicated.!!!

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I learned tonnes and it was nice to add another country to my “visited list”. I think I am also in a better position, now, to decide whether I want to do a pure Ph.D or not.