The Applied Bioinformatics and Public Health Conference with Microbial Genomics

Posted on July 8, 2019   by Ayorinde Afolayan

From 5–7 June, Microbial Genomics supported Ayorinde Afolayan to attend the Applied Bioinformatics and Public Health Conference (ABPHM) at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Ayorinde recently completed his PhD in pharmaceutical microbiology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and was able to attend ABPHM and present a poster at the event. Here, he discusses his experience at the event.

About a year ago, I was employed as the unit bioinformatician for a project interested in the genomic surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in Nigeria, and it was during this period that I was exposed to the numerous bioinformatic tools employed in analyzing and interpreting sequence data. I completed my graduate degree program (PhD) about two weeks before the commencement of the conference. ABPHM was the first conference of this kind that I have ever attended, and I am grateful to Microbial Genomics for enabling me to participate through their bursary for International Students.

During the meeting, I had the chance to listen to the talks of many of the developers of the bioinformatic tools I have been using. It is difficult to pick a particular talk of interest because almost all the talks were very interesting. I found Torsten Seemann’s talk on the relationship between a microbiologist, a genomic epidemiologist, and a bioinformatician particularly interesting, because I have a background in microbiology and I am a ‘toddler’ in the bioinformatic field. He also gave highlights on new bioinformatic tools coming soon, including Mokka/Prokka, Ekidna, PhastAf, Bowkaster, and Nullarbor 3.0.

Other talks I found particularly interesting were Anthony Underwood’s talk on the prospects and successes of sequence data analysis in low-income countries without access to high computing infrastructure; Iruka Okeke’s talk on the challenges, prospects, and steps taken by the Nigerian CDC to achieve genomic surveillance in Nigeria; Mat Fisher’s talk on genomic surveillance of fungal pathogens; Emma Hodcroft’s talk on the use of the tool ‘Nextstrain’ in tracking evolution and transmission of pathogens, and Robin Patel’s talk on the wealth of her experience (and her laboratory team) with the application of sequencing and customized bioinformatics in answering questions arising from diagnostic challenges at the Mayo Clinic.

The keynote lecture by Nick Thomson on the genomic surveillance of Vibrio cholerae for several decades was a fitting start to the conference talks, and Jennifer Gardy’s interview of Gabriella Stern (from the World Health Organization) on her experience with communicating infectious diseases throughout her career was a fitting end to the conference proceedings. In particular, Gabby’s answer to the single best question to ask anyone (What keeps you up at night?) really got me thinking about my passion and the best answer to this question.

I enjoyed the Bioinformatics showcase as I had the opportunity to ask questions, interact with, and listen to bioinformaticians showcasing their newly developed tools. I intend to compare the efficiencies of some of the new tools as soon as the tools are free for use and protocols for use are published.

I loved the tea breaks, lunch and the dinner times, because they afforded me the opportunity to socialise, to get to know about the research and personal lives of fellow scientists and mentors, and seek counsel from them. Lest I forget, I enjoyed reading the twitter comments with hashtags during the conference (#ABPHM19). They were refreshing and insightful.

Overall, I enjoyed this meeting to the fullest, and I am eager to see and hear about the trend of events in the applied bioinformatics and public health field during the next conference in 2021. This is the one conference that I would encourage bioinformaticians and public health scientists to attend. Many thanks to the organizers (Nick Loman, Kat Holt, and Jennifer Gardy) for a job well done, and to Microbial Genomics for sponsoring my attendance.