The first session of Phage Directory’s Virtual Event Series (PHAVES) took place this Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Thanks so much to everyone who joined us!!
At this first event, Jan and I discussed Phage Directory’s origin story and current and future directions, and answered questions from the phage community. Then, we did a series of breakout sessions, where the community had a chance to meet each other in small groups. Here’s how it all went.
Lots of engagement!
We were excited to have a lot more engagement than we expected. This came in the form of questions in the chat, and nearly all participants introduced their research and their backgrounds through small-group breakout rooms and through a larger-group meetup at the end.
What we discussed
Introductions: Jan, Jessica, Stephanie and the idea behind PHAVES
We started the session introducing ourselves (me, Jan, and Stephanie Lynch, our volunteer #PHAVES coordinator). Stephanie was up from 1:00 AM - 3:00 AM for this event, so if that doesn’t illustrate dedication, I don’t know what does! We also introduced PHAVES, including why we started the series (because the community kept asking, and we thought it would be a great chance to help people connect). We talked about what future sessions would look like, with the first session intended to be more of a casual meet-and-greet, but future sessions aiming to experiment with different structures, such as seminars, Ask-Me-Anythings, Interviews, Journal Clubs, Flash Talks.
Want to present? Signups are open and slots will fill on a rolling basis.
A Q&A on Phage Directory’s past, present and future
Jan and I talked about Phage Directory, starting with a brief origin story and moving into some of the work we’re excited about for 2020 and 2021.
Coordinating compassionate phage therapy
We started out introducing how we started Phage Directory in 2017, and talked about the initial response from researchers. We answered several questions about our phage therapy coordination work, including how it got started and how it works now. For instance, we talked about how we go about helping researchers from various countries ship phages and the general approach we take when we encounter new roadblocks (learn as we go, take great care in documenting what we do and what we learn).
Connecting phage characteristics with outcomes
We explained that something we’re working toward is helping researchers and clinicians track the phages that are used in patients according to key characteristics. So far that’s been a major hurdle, and most compassionate phage therapy cases happen so fast, and involve ad hoc collaboration among disparate groups, that this data isn’t always collected, nor is it aggregated. Ideally we’d like to compare how a phage behaves in patients across multiple cases where they’re used, and to associate phage characteristics with outcomes in these cases.
Creating a PhageDex (Gotta catch 'em all!)
Jan made the analogy that collecting and tracking phages is similar to collecting Pokemon, where you want to “catch them all”, and you need to understand each one and keep track of the strengths and weaknesses of each (a “PokeDex” is essential!). He talked about why we need a system of tracking this information for phages (a “PhageDex”), and what it could look like. (Read more about our plans, and how you can get involved, here).
Phages for more than therapy
We also had questions about whether the phages we help source and track are ever sourced for industrial applications beyond phage therapy. This was a great opportunity to emphasize that although we are often associated with phage therapy, we are building community tools to accelerate understanding and use of all phages, for all types of applications, not just phage therapy.
Sharing phage protocols and genome reports
We were also asked about opportunities for the community to share phage protocols, which is something we are working to incorporate into the Phage Directory platform. We talked about our soft launch of a phage genome announcement publication platform last year. Many in the audience expressed interest in this, especially given the high current cost of genome announcements and how much work goes into characterizing phages and annotating genomes (much of which is done by undergraduates and underfunded institutions who can’t justify spending hundreds per genome announcements). It was great for us to hear that there is interest here, and we’re excited to move this project along in conjunction with the phage catalogue/data collection platform we’re building.
After our Q&A, we began part two of the event: breakout sessions! The breakout sessions involved randomizing attendees into groups of 3-4 (we did through Zoom, which accommodates this well). Groups were given 5 minutes together, and were asked to simply give each member a chance to introduce themselves and their phage interests. We did two sessions, coming together to the “lobby” for a few minutes after each to regroup. Between sessions, we answered more questions that had come in during our main Q&A at the beginning.
Originally we planned only to run this event for an hour, so at the end of that hour, we formally closed the session. However, we decided to stick around longer if people were still keen on meeting more people, and a group of about 15 decided to stick around! We decided to keep it to one large group instead of breaking it down further. Each person explained a bit about their research and their background, with opportunities to ask questions after each. This was impromptu, and yet seemed to work out well, as this group ended up staying and talking for the whole second hour!
All in all, we came away with a great feeling about how the event went. We always want to maintain the spirit of inclusivity, hence why we’ve prioritized giving the floor to as many attendees as possible, and giving researchers chances to meet scientists from around the world, no matter the stage of their career, their research, or where they’re from. We also want to keep the spirit of experimentation, which was why we were happy to explore where the impromptu “bonus hour” would take us. Now that we’ve gotten the first event under our belts, we’re excited to experiment on a few other dimensions throughout the summer and likely beyond, starting with experimenting with different presentation formats.
We’re planning the next few PHAVES events now, and they will be announced soon (they’ll end up on our main PHAVES site). Keep an eye on Capsid & Tail, or on our Twitter/LinkedIn, and you shouldn’t miss the announcements.
Please feel free to send us your feedback, whether you attended PHAVES 1 or not; we’d love to hear what you think worked, did not work, or might work!
Also, feel free to send us suggestions for speakers, topics, and formats! Get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Slack, or Twitter anytime.
Video recording, 35 min (breakout rooms excluded).
Rohit Kongari helped us produce this week’s article by helping us source and write the What’s New section. Thanks Rohit!!
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