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FASEB Summer Conference in Snowmass Colorado

The biannual FASEB Summer Conference in Biology and Chemistry of Vision conference alternates years with the Inner Retinal Circuitry FASEB meeting and I’ve decided both of them should be a regular meeting as I enjoyed the last retinal circuitry meeting so much. So, I suspect that there will be two regularly attended yearly meetings that I will have to go to including ARVO. However, the scientific yield from the FASEB meetings are unbeatable in that even though they are a week long from 7:00am to 11:00pm every day, I come back refreshed and with a ton of new ideas. The format of the meetings is pretty straight forward in that you engineer a social gathering where all the scientists of a particular discipline are put together in a isolated place somewhere from sun-up to well after sun-down for meals, meetings and discussion… shake thoroughly and have science fall out. The intimacy of small groups of around 100 people are far more effective in disseminating information than larger meetings of thousands of people, although there is a place for the large meetings as well.

This particular meeting was held at Snowmass Village, Colorado where the surrounding mountains were spectacular and we usually had a couple of hours in the afternoon to go for hikes, bike rides or whatever. Had I not been hauling around a ton of camera gear, the fishing might have also been spectacular as you’ll notice from some of the photos of trout including the introductory photo above of a brook trout in a stream which has a much more abstract quality about it. There is a brown trout swimming in the stream in the image above, you just have to look for it a bit harder than in the images of trout in the lake below, swimming in water so clean and clear that it almost appears that the fish float in mid air. It is also interesting to note that trout retinas are very exciting and sophisticated devices that put human color and information processing to shame. I’d love to spend some more time studying fish retinas, but I gotta figure out how to fund it. Perhaps one of these days, I’ll be able to fund my own scientific inquiries without worrying about maintaining grants and perhaps metabolomics is just the vehicle to do it with? How cool would it be to be able to construct an evolutionary retinal atlas using our metabolomics techniques from various retinas found around the world? It might even be possible through such a study to figure out where horizontal cells came from and how they operate…

As I said, the meetings were fairly intense and most of the photographic opportunities that arose did so outside of the actual talks and poster sessions where most photography is prohibited anyway to preserve individuals work. I did however get a couple of shots of Yingbin and David per request reminding me that I really do need to get that Canon 50mm f1.2 for indoor photography without using a flash.

Yingbin is one of the faculty that we have just recruited to the Moran Eye Center from Johns Hopkins University. He gave a great talk on how Gβˠ subunits are required for the termination of the rod photoresponse.

David talked about motor protein function in the RPE and how microtubules interact with actin-based motors, transporting phogosomes and mealosomes and how those activities determine the polarization of cells. It is very exciting work and I wish them the best as they move from UCSD down to Jules Stein at UCLA in the next little while.

While I was able to take those two photos inside the conference for the talks, most of the time was spent paying attention to the content and as a result I don’t have any other images during the talks themselves. That said, most of the images taken during these meetings were captured at breaks during meals or during the hikes we were able to take with my colleagues at the afternoon breaks.

Carter is a Utah boy who made good in the fields of electrophysiology and biochemistry by crafting an understanding of how retinas respond to light. He also tells me that he’s quite the fisherman, but I’ve yet to see evidence of that first hand, so Carter…. let me know when you are in town next time, yeah? Jason used to work with us here at the Moran Eye Center and left for his current position at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is quite adept at engineering genetic systems and Jason, I’ll be calling you soon for those TG9N models.


Wolfgang and Jason proving that all is well in the world and there are no hard feelings. Hey you two, good to see!


Carter, Felix, Tanja and Dan on the first day of the conference looking fresh and ready for week, full of a science onslaught.


Maureen, Carter’s former graduate student at dinner. Congratulations on your dissertation defense Maureen, even if you did think I was addicted to the camera for carrying it around all the time. Well, *that* was awkward, eh?


Steven is an assistant professor at Columbia Medical Center interested in retinal disease from a phototransduction cascade perspective making him a natural seating companion with Wolfgang. This was the first time I met Stephen formally, despite seeing him around prior to this meeting. This of course is the nice thing about FASEB and attending a retinal chemistry focused meeting which is just a little outside my normal field of study.


Dan Gibbs is a candidate we are recruiting from David Williams lab. He is a young, highly talented scientist whose work is truly exciting and I look forward to him keeping us on our toes.


Duncan is Jason Chen’s grad student working on his MD, PhD. He seemed like a good guy and he seemed truly interested in the whole prospect of retinal degeneration and the subsequent remodeling that occurs…. encouraging for someone interested in a clinical career as there are still holdouts who either appear unaware or unwilling to recognize that if we hope to rescue vision loss, we need to understand and deal with the whole phenomenon of remodeling in visual neural systems.

Tanja is a good friend who is working as a post-doc in David Williams lab. I first met her on the trip to Argentina for the RD2006 meetings and have been impressed with her approach in David’s lab.


On a couple of the nights after the conference let out at 11:00pm, several of us made it upstairs to sample beer. While there was not a great diversity of beer at our conference center, they did have Fat Tire Ale which is quite tasty and is nicely modeled after Belgian amber beer. Fat Tire Ale also apparently helped to take a little bit of the pain out of Dan’s nicely bruised arm after he decided to sample some of the local dirt while mountain biking.

While I worked on a manuscript that is admittedly very late on two of the days during our break, there also were also a couple of brief hikes that I was able to get in up by the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake with my good friends and colleagues Barb, Tanja, Dan, Greg, Sukanya, Felix and Wolfgang. The area was absolutely beautiful with an amazing diversity of bird, insect and mammalian life and Tanja even got pictures of a black bear which must have been truly exciting. The weather was a bit warm, but really we lucked out with beautiful weather to hike in.

Barb and I in the shuttle on the way up to Maroon lake. During the peak season, they prohibit automobiles from traveling up the canyon from 9am to 5pm, so one has to take a $6 shuttle ride. It sounds like a bit of a racket, but given that our only break in the meetings was in this time frame, we paid out for the privilege to take the hike in a time frame that would bet us back to the meetings in time.

We ran into Eric Pierce and his family on one of our hikes. Eric, I don’t know if your daughter got a picture of the Blue-throated hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae) we were all looking at… if not, give her the one below.

We also had a big flock of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that landed on Maroon Lake and lolled about on the beautifully clear water, absolutely unafraid of some photographer walking up to take their picture.

Wolfgang was *very* happy to be in the mountains.

David and Tanja seem to get in a bit of mountain biking wherever meetings take them and they really made me wish I had brought my bike as well. I know you were biking in Argentina and now Colorado… so, where else have you two biked?

While not quite the crispest of images, this was a bit of a lucky shot as this bird was jumping and flittering in a patch of dandelions.

Sukanya is a graduate student in Wolfgang’s lab. Now that we are in the new building, I get to interact with Sukanya more than when we were in separate buildings and prior to the move and the trip we took to RD 2006, I had not really had the chance to talk with her much but am impressed with her ability to ask questions and apply rigor to problems. Of course having a mentor like Wolfgang is a big help here, but you have got to have the chops to work with a scientist the caliber of Wolfgang to begin with.


Wolfgang took this photo of Greg and I. Even though I saw Greg’s talk earlier this year at the Eleventh Annual Vision Research Conference with a focus on Retinal Degeneration and Gene Therapy, this was the first time I’ve had time to actually meet and talk with him. Greg’s research is in an exciting area of retinal function that examines the assembly mechanisms of eukaryotic cilia and how the functions of those structures interact in development and retinal function. With respect to retinal disease, he examines how intraflagellar transport proteins function in an interesting conjunction of polycystic kidney disease and how those functions relate to retinal disease.


This little Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) flew right in front of my face taking out and proceeding to eat a rather irritating insect that had been buzzing around my head for about two minutes on the walk up the trail. It was a surprising move which I was grateful for and even more satisfying when this little fellow immediately landed in a low shrub next to the trail and waited for me to take his picture. So, little chipping sparrow you have my thanks.


This common raven (Corvus corax) sat above the trail and rather aggressively defended his little spot of the aspen grove against any and all other birds. He grabbed my attention by flying to the top of the tree and making a call that sounded surprisingly like James Brown yelling “Bobby!” and I had to take his picture.


This picture was taken of Maroon Lake from about 200 feet above the trail illustrating how clean and clear the water is up here.


Despite using sunscreen liberally, a couple of days up at 12,000 feet or so will give you a bit of exposure. So, make sure you invest in a high spf sunscreen.


I like my airplanes and had to shoot images of a couple of them landing in Aspen. I also believe the father of our current Governor John Huntsman Jr., had his Gulfstream sitting on the tarmac, but I am not sure about that.

Curiously, on the way home through Grand Junction, Colorado, I drove past the Grand Junction airport (GJT or Walker Field) which had a C-17 from Charleston sitting on the runway all by itself. Perhaps it was something to do with the Army Corps of Engineers, but who knows?

It was a late drive back, but lack of light has never stopped me from taking photos before, so why quit when the sun starts to go down?

Categories: Science, Travel.

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