With its research emphasis on understanding the impact of climate change on the environment, Biosphere2 turned out to be the perfect venue for our fourth annual Phenotype RCN meeting! More than 60 students, postdocs, and professionals from 7 countries participated in this inspirational event, and our expertise was evenly split between biology and informatics. We were particularly pleased to have the support and participation from the EDEN RCN (6 people), with their focus on understanding the impact of ecological factors on organismal development and evolution.
The goals for this summit meeting were to (1) understand the bioinformatics landscape of environmental ontologies and vocabularies (What resources exist? What acquisitions and mergers should happen?); (2) find out how (and whether) environment is represented with respect to phenotype in projects and annotation data sets; and (3) determine research that would benefit from the integration of environment ontologies. We frontloaded this work by initiating a group Google doc prior to the meeting, with the goal to refine it and publish it following the meeting. Combined with presentations from meeting participants, this activity was surprisingly effective (!), and the manuscript is progressing quickly. In short, we discovered that the ENVO ontology is likely to be the most widely used and supported, and though it needs to be provisioned with many concepts from the user community, participants felt that it would be sufficient for their needs. It doesn’t seem that environment has been formally represented with respect to phenotypes outside of the microbial realm (where it is very important), but many interesting research questions could be addressed if it was. Please let us know if you’d like to contribute to this doc.
Another huge accomplishment: Over a dozen new research collaborations were spawned by this meeting! We’re still sorting these out, but the RCN hopes to support many of these activities through our Collaborative Exchange Opportunities mechanism.
On the social side, this meeting was very fun! To the relief and immense enjoyment from those of us from the North, who haven’t seen warm weather in what seems like an eternity, most meals were held outside on the patio of B2. And one dinner was even inside the Biosphere itself. Some of our participants enjoyed antics in B2, including one who managed to get locked in (briefly)….. The clean and cozy casitas made for great breakout spaces, the fantastic catering kept our minds sharp, the fun and beautiful setting inspired interaction, and the care and attention to every organizational detail (thanks to Kim Land at B2 and Judy Logue for the RCN) made this meeting possibly our best. Thanks everyone!