I’ve considered reading for pleasure a luxury since I started graduate school, so I figured an 8 hour plane ride justified cracking open a new book. I pulled out Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson, gifted to my class by Dr. Weiss at the inaugural advancing to candidacy ceremony. I came across a fitting passage:
“Take weekends off for rest and diversion, but no vacations. Real scientists do not take vacations. They take field trips…”
Naturally, I interpreted “field trips” to mean scientific conferences, which is exactly where I was headed. I had the opportunity to present my current data at the 9th International Filovirus Symposium in Germany. Unique to this conference, the location held a significant historical purpose.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm also known as the Brothers Grimm, were students at the University in Marburg in the early 1800s. They were inspired by the enchanting landscape and medieval architecture of the city and used it to craft their well-known fairy tale collection. However, not even the great story tellers could have imagined a tragedy would plague Marburg over a century later, without the happy ending.
In 1967, there was a deadly hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Marburg caused by an unknown pathogen. Local scientists, aided by the international scientific community, were able to identify the novel pathogen and it was appropriately named Marburg virus. This was the initial documented outbreak of a member of the Filoviridae family, which also includes Ebola virus, identified around the same time in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The conference itself was comprised of the usual talks and poster sessions which were broken up by topic; virus biology and structure, pathogenesis and pathology, vaccines and therapy, and clinical management. I enjoyed listening to presenters like Elke Muhlberger and Gaya Amarasinghe among others who talked about minigenomes and their purpose in viral research, structural mechanisms of immune invasion and replication, and transcriptional viral RNA editing. I also attended talks that were focused on other aspects of Ebola virus that I do not work on directly, such as host immunology responses and micropinocytosis inhibitors as therapeutic treatment in order to gain an overall understanding of the deadly pathogen.
After the close of the conference, I took a spontaneous trip to Munich for yet another history lesson. The inaugural Oktoberfest took place on October 12, 1810 in Munich to celebrate the marriage of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese Charlotte Luise of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This tradition has carried on to the present day, where people from all over the world come to partake in the activities. It is the largest public fair in the world, specializing in a wide variety of traditional German and Bavarian dishes, amusement park rides, and of course, “liquid gold.” Arguably the best beer in the world, there have been strong regulations to enforce the high quality of the final product since the 16th century.
Germany provided many unique opportunities, each I am grateful to have experienced. It has reminded me why science is so important to the world and that international collaborations are necessary to advance scientific research. It has also made me fall in love with German beer, however, that is a fairy tale story for another day.
This article was written by Ashley Silvia, a graduate student in the Cell Biology, Genetics & Molecular Medicine (CGM) discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.