Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology


By Aasis Vinayak



I travelled to Lisbon in August 2013 to present my work to my peers in the field of evolutionary biology at the XIV Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon.  The conference began on 19th August and finished on 24th August.

I spent the first day settling in and getting to know my fellow researchers. The evening was rounded off by a wonderful barbecue which was very well organised. I was surprised to note that the majority of delegates were actually professors, lecturers and post doctorates!

The conference began on Tuesday morning with a plenary talk by Juliette De-Meaux from Münster Institut für Evolution und Biodiversität Hüfferstr about molecular evolution in Arabidopsis thaliana. I found this talk interesting and informative because I come from a mathematics and physics background. Accordingly, I tend to look at evolution from a purely theoretical perspective. Even when Darwin proposed the theory of evolution, it was essentially as a theoretical concept. However, due to advancements in the field of molecular biology, we can now study the evolution (adaptation) at the molecular level. Dr De-Meaux’s talk focused on the molecular adaptation exhibited by the Arabidopsis thaliana species. This was a useful talk which helped me to understand evolution at a molecular level in a much better way. All in all, a very productive start to the week.

The first symposium, which followed the plenary talk was titled: “Phenotypic plasticity: mechanisms, ecology and evolution.” I found this session to be very insightful because of its focus on understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. I tend to use theoretical frameworks in my research works and therefore I found it useful to learn more about the biological aspects of these mechanisms.

Other symposiums which I found interesting were: “The nature and mechanisms of evolution of species recognition systems”, “Evolutionary significance of epigenetic variation” (excellent!), “Genomics and experimental evolution”, “Rapid evolution and population genetics”, “Non genetic inheritance” (I found this symposium informative and helpful, and surprising at times), “Evolutionary demography” (I presented at this symposium), “Mechanisms of trade-offs,” “Actively learning evolution: methods and resources” and  “Population ecology.”

At present I am studying the emergence of tumours from a theoretical perspective and accordingly I found the plenary talk titled “Cancer through the eye of evolutionary medicine,” by Professor Mel Geaves of the Institute of Cancer Research, (on Thursday 22nd August) particularly interesting.

Our work (“Studying the emergence and evolution of apoptosis using Evolutionary Game Theory and Agent Based Modelling”)  was presented on the second last day of the conference (Friday 23rd August).  Our work was well received by the delegates and I obtained some very constructive feedback on my research. I was also fortunate to meet other researchers who are working on very similar ideas, which encouraged to pursue my line of research even further.

In fact both the organisers, Ulrich K. Steiner and Barbara Pietrzak, were especially helpful in providing feedback and advice and special thanks go to both of them. Our symposium was also funded by the prestigious Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Demographics. Ulirich expressed an interest in our research and offered to provide us with some helpful data, which Andre and I are now pursuing.

The final day of the conference began with a plenary talk titled “Sex differences in natural selection on reproductive scheduling and longevity in humans,” by Professor Virpi Lummaa of the University of Sheffield, which I found to be helpful in my current research.

Lisbon was a fantastic setting for the conference. I began to explore Lisbon on the day I landed (18th August). I also had some free time for sightseeing on the morning of 19th August. There were no symposiums on Wednesday afternoon and so I also used this time for sightseeing. Particular highlights included the Oriental museum and Belém Tower. I really enjoyed the city centre bus tour. I spent the long summer nights strolling around the city centre almost every evening. I also found the local cuisine to be excellent.

Finally, I would like to thank my supervisor Andre Gruning for his invaluable assistance in helping me to prepare my presentation. I would also like to thank the Department of Computing for funding my trip to the conference. I also thank Key Travels for organising my itinerary so efficiently. I would also like to thank my partner Deepali Manek for proofreading my poster and for her ongoing support.  The conference was well organised and well attended and I managed to meet a number of like-minded researchers whom I hope to maintain contact with. I would like to thank the conference organisers, delegates and volunteers who helped to make the conference a great success.