My account on the organization of the Barcode of Life Conference

Patricia Escalante. November 16, 2009.

One second, there are only three weeks left for the Conference and we are far behind in logistics, finances, and many other things… Another second, you blink and the meeting is over.
This is my collection.

Late October 2008.
We receive a mailing from CBOL (David Schindel -DS) inviting people from the Western Hemisphere to submit proposals to organize the Third International Conference. I find the same conviction to elaborate a proposal from Gerardo Salazar, and his alliance. We have an institution, a proto-Committee, a scientifically interesting place, and we can find a venue. We have the idea and the desire. We know that living in Mexico City is not that bad anymore. I love this country and this project. I ask my Director and get her consent, and her suggestions. I thank you Tila.
I visit the proposed venue and organize a first letter and a ppt for a proposal to CBOL, and I ask Juan Manuel de Jesus, for his input regarding the presentation. He sends me, two days later, not only a nice presentation but also an astonishing design for the event. His design will be our image, and our logo, and we will later use it to death. Thanks Manolo.

Late November 2008.
I send the presentation. And we receive some financial support from CONACYT for the MexBOL network. These funds should be used to organize some activities to launch the network in 2009.

31 December 2008
We receive the news from CBOL that our proposal made it to the second round, that CBOL was well impressed, and that DS will come in January to check the venue, the possible sponsors, and the proposed Local Committee.

January 2009
We make time in January to receive DS in Mexico. We prepare some appointments, an agenda, and try to get him safe to the hotel. Then we visit the venue, and possible places for social events. We get the support from CONACYT, in a visit with Dr De la Peña. When he hears: “the meeting will be either in Mexico City or Montreal”, he sympathetically replies “no, you have to do it in Mexico”, and CONACYT offers matching funds.
Then, we visit the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and later the Consultative Forum for Research and Technology (Dr Juan Pedro Laclette) and also UNAM officials (Dr Rosaura Ruiz), and we get their support, “you should do it in Mexico”, they all say. And then I get a splendid team at UNAM with some of my colleagues for a first Local Organizing Committee with Gerardo Salazar, David Gernandt, Francisco Vergara, Atilano Contreras and Joaquin Cifuentes. I am confirmed, if the case were, as chair of this Committee, and choke a little bit with the news. I also know that if I fail, it would be kind of bad for me. Anyway, not all was won, there was still a competition, but we could have a regional meeting if we didn’t win (we wanted the big one). So, we present an expanded proposal with hotel, lunch, and other costs, possible one-day and more trips, and a preliminary budget. We wait and hope. (Thanks David Gernandt for checking my English). David Schindel offers a very interesting seminar to the curators and researchers at the Institute of Biology 8:15am, and then we make it to CONABIO, before he has to leave for the airport.

February 2009
We see and hear that the violence and insecurity keeps growing in this country, and are afraid that this could affect the Conference.
We receive the good news in February that our proposal was selected (I knew it!). And so, we set to organize with CBOL the Technical Program Committee meeting in March.
We also have to organize the MexBOL launching events at Universum and at the Institute of Biology for early March. We are pleased to receive Paul Hebert, Mehrdad Hajibabaei, Rob DeSalle, Damon Little, Karl Kjer, Ron Peterson and Karen Hughes, and we combine their presentations with ours for our workshop on the projects or campaigns we will be undertaking. I can see all my committee happy for these visits and exchanges.

March 2009
We then get Cassio van den Berg, Pablo Tubaro, Pete Hollingsworth, Bob Hanner, Rob DeSalle, George Amato, David Schindel, and Meg Fritzsche in Mexico City for the Technical Program Committee meeting. The committee interviews three Professional Conference Organizers interested and chooses SERVIMED. We have joint meetings, where the plenary and parallel sessions are planned, preConference events, social events, and one for the public at the Science Museum. We have a good time working on this. I hear “Be careful what you wish for”, and take it seriously.

Easter and Pascua to Labor Day
Not much regarding working for the conference, the announcement is out already. The Swine or Mexican Flu epidemic strikes Mexico City and the rest of the country. We follow the Health authority recommendations, and we see how other meetings suffer cancellations. We worry a little.
I learn how busy the CBOL Secretariat is, organizing the e-Biosphere conference in London, and other meetings around the world. I have to make sure three times that we have the venues booked for our Conference. And we get the posters done (I am very pleased to hear how the CBOL EXCO likes them).

Summer 2009
Then we get a time-line. CBOL and Servimed get the web pages up, and the Call for abstracts and registration. We assemble a database FOR Mexican Systematists, and try to advertise the meeting as much as possible.
A new major sponsor comes along, IDRC (the International Development Research Centre) from Canada, and we learn of their interest in addressing ethical issues related to Access and Benefits Sharing.
I lose Mariana de Jesus as my assistant (my second), only to find another excellent and committed collaborator, Jose Luis Mijangos.
Then comes the work by the program committee of reviewing abstracts and bursary applications. We read so many good ones and try to help with difficult choices. I then see how the preConference workshops are organized; it is going to be very interesting.
As it tends to happen, the Conference can only fund half the applicants for bursaries, and we try to think of other sources. In September, CONACYT publishes two calls for equipment improvement and I have to leave the Conference organization for one or two intense weeks of team proposal writing for our labs upgrading.

September and October 2009
After the measures taken to control the flu epidemic, the slowdown of activities and tourism take a toll in our economy and the government announces cuts in the remaining budget of 2009; there go our chances of getting extra funding support from government agencies for the meeting.
Then the government closes down the electricity company who serves the city and the Union is all upset, there are rumors of power cuts and perhaps chaos in the city. We have to give up the chance to have our closing banquet in a colonial building in the historic center, and search for an alternative in the south part of the city.

Early November 2009
We try to get the room assignments for all the meetings right; we try to anticipate level of attendance for them. We try to help people in getting their visas, and we try hard to get more funds. Just when I think that I can finally work on my presentations I receive a Press Release (Boletin de Prensa) and we translate it and represent the local host with the journalists. We look for UNAM support for this, and share interviews. We talk to journalists from all over the place (Reuters, BBC, EFE…), on the phone, in English mostly.
I try to get everything ready at home. Lucky to have family support for the coming weeks. The last minute logistic details in the UNAM campus (Institute of Biology and Seminars Unit) cannot be missed. Luckily the Sunday football game between Pumas UNAM and America is rescheduled for the previous Thursday); it would have been very difficult to get the buses through the venues. But we still have to work around a foot race going on in the same streets of our campus on Sunday. I continue having the important support from Jose Luis and his organization skills. We get 13 student volunteers to help in the events. We get the t-shirts done. And I am so tired! Maybe I do not want to have the Conference anymore.
The CBOL Secretariat gets here one day ahead for an inspection tour in the venue, and a discussion of the AV needs. We work on this budget. And we go for lunch to Fonda Santa Clara and try three or four preHispanic dishes (chinicuiles, chapulines, cuitlacohe) and chiles en nogada.

Saturday 07 November
I am able to enjoy the first workshop thanks to the gracious support of people from our Computer Support facility, from the students/volunteers, from people at the Botanical Garden. I meet Junko Shimura from the Global Taxonomic Initiative and listen to her introduction by DS. I listen and participate in very interesting presentations about the momentum of the biodiversity initiatives and the ways to obtain funding.
My colleagues Robert Bye and Paco Vergara share with me the impression that this was very good for our Instituto, to have people from so many different countries in our facilities (Nigeria, China, India, Brazil……). I wished more co-workers would participate. I am not able to go see the botanists in their session (just get some twitter news) and I only see them from the distance at lunch. This first day of workshops we expected 80 people but received 134, and we almost run out of food; we have to order chilaquiles with rice and beans so that our students and the support people can return to work fast. The sessions are going very well.

Sunday 08 November
The much anticipated Leading Labs Network workshop with Amy Driskell, Chris Meyer, Sally Adamowicz, Alex Borisenko, Dario Lijtmaer, Rodolphe Rougerie, Oris Sanjur, and Natalie Ivanova, starts, and later the participants break into smaller groups for discussions in different parts of the garden. We see Paul Hebert coming and find him as optimistic as ever, despite having difficulties getting himself to out campus on a Sunday in a taxi (the taxi was lost -“he gave me a tour”, and then he had to walk). I meet and thank Ronnie Vernooy, and meet the other speakers for the Monday workshop. I barely tried the spinach lasagna at lunch. And then we all go back to the workshops.
I look forward to a busy Monday full of events but also full of people at the Institute of Biology (and complications maybe, and yes there were some).

Monday 09 November
In the morning I check how the BOLD and the Invasives workshops will start, because I need to go to the iBOL meeting that is at the same time. I find the room more full than I expected, and I think this is a historical meeting. People here sharing the latest events in the advance of the iBOL project and planning the launching in July 2010. Very important. We get updates from campaigns. And then we break for our third lunch at the Arboretum.
The Auditorium is full for the Symposium on the Barcode of Life: Society and Technology Dynamics, Global and National Perspectives. Junko Shimura gives CDB’s position and an important point: prior consent. The countries of the South are not yet so happy about the ABS work, maybe they do not accept the separation between commercial and non-commercial research, Manuel Ruiz makes his point, there are good reasons for distrust, but what can we do? The speaker from India (Dr. Haribabu Ejnavarzala) proposes open databases. Now it is the audience’s turn, there are no real questions, everyone has an opinion, is it paranoia? And what about the benefits, the training, the financial support? The audience approves… and we take a break. David Schindel explains CBOL efforts, then we have an economist, Joe Vogel who comes with a practical view, why don’t biodiversity countries get organized, also with a criticism, and he gives us a practical definition, if the revenue is 0.5% it is biopiracy, but if you can get 15% then you are in business; it can be considered as bioprospection, and we all should feel better. He also explains the complications that countries have when species of economic importance are shared among borders, how to negotiate, and he also offers a solution: iBOL as an enabler of ABS, and ABS as an enabler of iBOL. Something to think about at the highest organizational levels, I think. And now it’s Paul Hebert’s turn, he always gives great talks, but this time, to me he gave one of the most moving ones. Yes, there are issues, he let IDRC know that this is an important point of consideration to Guelph, but we should not forget that we are losing much biodiversity altogether, as we speak, as we complaint or have doubts. This talk inspires me, how much he is trying, building, gathering, bringing, and to show us how he is doing this big collaboration, then he shows two pictures of students from abroad that visited his lab and are being trained. And yes, I think you are right, a better world is possible. Thanks for the wisdom too.
So, it is time for the Opening Banquet. Let’s go to ex-Hacienda de Tlalpan. The garden looks very pretty with all the Christmas decorations already up on the colonial architecture and the trees, mostly in blue, it looks original. Then some margaritas, and the big room looking lovely, plenty of tables, and the buffet is ready, but we all want to mingle and greet as many people as we can. It is so good. Of course, crepas de huitlacoche cannot be missed and more than two desserts. I wanted to leave early but the Russian Canadian people from the lab are outside, what a great opportunity to talk to them thanks for the friendliness.
Now it comes the real event, the Third Conference, at the Mexican Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday 10 November
I find the lawn prettier than ever, and all the rooms ready, maybe some technicalities but all the important people have arrived. I have chosen the words for the welcoming address; of course I want to thank everybody for coming, the support from Mexican institutions and my colleagues. And not to forget CBOL, for making us part, for putting their trust in us, everything is going to be OK, but we are not there yet.
Thanks Antonio Lazcano for the first plenary talk, I understand your worries that the microbial research world needs to get back to the life history tradition that we, in the eukaryotes world, still have, and to transmit that tradition to students. Now, the updates from the campaigns, Paul Hebert from iBOL, Pete Hollingsworth from the Plant Barcoding and Tila María Pérez from MexBOL. It looks good! so far. Now a good break and we need to load presentations, and there is a line. We arranged for six excellent presenters, and Atilano and I will moderate two panel discussions. It goes well. Fiuuu. Time for lunch and now technical sessions. Of course, I will go to the birds and other vertebrate’s session. It feels good to meet with your closest colleagues for a while. Before the break it is my turn. Paul Hebert is in the audience and I am a bit nervous. During the break, the Academy looks so intense, so interesting. The Guelph people are on the porch; I hope they will remember the view. Time for me to get to the sponsor’s dinner organized by CBOL. Everything is going well, but there are some disturbing news and important email messages to check from Servimed. The traffic on Wednesday might be pretty bad due to programmed protests over the dismissal of the electricity workers. Cars and trucks coming from out of town through all highways will go downtown in the afternoon for a demonstration. It is better to take the delegates to the Academy as early as possible. The last bus will depart at 6:30 am from their hotels, everybody is being warned.

Wednesday 11 November
So, people arrived early to the Academy, they had early meetings or spent time in an improvised internet cafe, but almost no one was caught in traffic. This is better. The plenary presentations were superb, and I made it to very good technical sessions too. Pretty soon it is time to go to the closing banquet. The demonstrations are downtown. Jose Manuel Bisteni is very happy, and proud of the advice he gave us, not to go downtown for the banquet, and we are safe and can have a good time. The only problem is that we have a bus missing. It took them almost two hours to arrive but finally, there they are. There are still margaritas and plenty of food. Almost everybody has eaten and it is time to dance. Yes, relax, take it easy, any rhythm, and many people dancing. I see Nicaragua, Sweden, Australia, and Brazil, and South Africa with someone else, and more, and a lot of cameras. Everybody is having fun.

Thursday 12 November
It is Thursday, the last day of the Conference. Again the talks are diverse and very interesting. It is still a very busy day. An important meeting takes place with Sujeevan Ratnasingham, CONABIO (Raúl Jiménez), and IBUNAM (Joaquín Giménez) where we discuss how to design our country BOL portal. There are also reporters from the news in the public television (Canal ONCE), and some things to fix regarding payments, but the bullfight tables look so pretty and everybody is enjoying tacos!
And now comes the last part, the Mesoamerican Symposium. We assembled a nice Symposium I think. Gerardo Salazar and Manuel Elias are moderators. It goes well, and Dan Janzen gives the closing talk. I liked very much his presentation I have not heard this before, and I like his closing very much, on the screen he flashes “The End”, and then crosses it out and says “no, this is just The Beginning” of uncovering so much hidden biodiversity, and I know he is right.
And now, it is time to close the Conference, and David asks me to. Thanks, but I really have to thank him and CBOL for all their work done for this, and to let us play this part. I did it with my heart. Farewell delegates, get home safe, and we will see you soon.

Friday 13 November
We still do not have enough, in the public event we hear Dan Janzen talking to high-school students about bar-coding in Latin America. He says it is something he wants to give back to Mexico and we are lucky to be in this place and time. The explanation is very very good both for teenagers and adults. And as Gerardo put it, it was a golden closing for us.

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