In 2017, New Zealand won the hosting rights for the 16th triennial Congress of the Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists and Molecular Biologists (FAOBMB). The successful bid was a partnership between the NZ Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the NZ Microbiological Society, the NZ Society of Plant Biologists, the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Australian Society for Microbiology. Our vision was to welcome the world to Christchurch, to showcase the molecular and microbial life sciences.
Despite careful planning, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the means by which the congress was delivered. By the time the Congress arrived, New Zealand’s borders were closed and regional lockdowns meant that even local delegates were unable to gather in person. Instead, we took on the challenge of delivering the entire Congress online. In total, the Congress attracted 801 delegates from 29 countries. One advantage of the virtual format was that no-one had to pay for airfares!
While many of us missed face-to-face interactions, the online platform allowed us to interact, network and consume a vast smorgasbord of science in new ways. In fact, the delegates spent around 12,000 total hours engaging with the Congress platform during the course of the 4-day event. There was certainly plenty to choose from, including 15 plenary lectures (11 of which were delivered by renowned speakers on various microbial topics), 50 parallel sessions featuring 259 oral presentations, and also 270 e-posters, 181 of which were accompanied by 2-minute lightning talks (uploaded by the presenter in addition to their poster PDF). Approximately half of the delegates were members of the NZ Microbiological Society, so interest in the field was very strong indeed.
All content, including the live Q&A sessions, was recorded so that it was available on-demand. This was good news for delegates in different time zones. Indeed, the content is still available for registered delegates to view at their leisure. The Congress handbook and a separate book of poster abstracts both remain available on the Congress website (https://www.faobmb2021.org/).
A highlight of the Congress was the New Zealand Microbiological Society Oration, delivered by Prof Steve Flint (Massey University). Prof Flint charmed the audience with lessons learned on his journey through veterinary and food microbiology, in both industry and academia (and in the Army!). Former NZMS Orator and longstanding SfAM member, Prof Stephen On (Lincoln University) chaired a fascinating session on Food and Beverage Microbiology, and also delivered a talk on his own research in the Food Safety session.
Another highlight was the NZMS Student Speaker Competition. This year, 12 talented young microbiologists submitted 3-minute, pre-recorded talks about their research. The entries are available online (https://www.nzms.org.nz/nzms2021-3mt.html) and we extend our congratulations to the winners: Mareike Erdmann (University of Otago; 1st place); Giselle Wong (University of Auckland; 2nd place); Kelsey McKenzie (U. Otago; 3rd place).
The NZ Microbiological Society and the other Congress partners are all extremely grateful for SfAM’s Scientific Meeting Support Grant. Pivoting to an all-online format at the last minute was a challenge, but SfAM’s support ensured we were able to deliver the best, most interactive, virtual Congress possible.
Find out more about SfAM's Scientific Meeting Support Grant by clicking here.