Penn State's Plant Biology Symposium: Wild and Tamed Phytobiomes; a wild and untamed success

The 21st Biennial Penn State Plant Biology Symposium was a four-day event that attracted top scientists from around the world to weave a narrative about the complex and expanding field of phytobiomes

Since its inception in 1987, Penn State's Plant Biology Symposium has served as a meeting place where scientists in plant biology and related fields could inspire those breaking new ground. This year's event, titled Wild and Tamed Phytobiomes, centered on phytobiomes, a term encompassing all systems and factors that affect or are affected by plants and covering a broad range of fields including entomology, soil science, microbiology, food safety, ecology, agronomy, molecular biology, immunology, extension education, science communication, sociology, and law.

Organized by the Plant Biology graduate program of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Phytobiome Initiative of the College of Agricultural Sciences, the symposium took place June 19-22. The event kickoff was a workshop where phytobiome manipulation to improve productivity was thoroughly addressed in light of resource challenges. There were several targeted talks, a breakout session, and in closing, they highlighted the importance of communicating their goals to regulatory entities, growers, and the general public. The days were filled with lectures by inspiring speakers and poster sessions. Two highly praised plenary sessions discussed the value of patenting and the social obligation of public scientists. The symposium concluded with a professional development workshop by Carolee Bull, Department Head of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology.

Organizers of the event received glowing praise for the care that went into planning the flow of speakers. We found that this Symposium really told a narrative about an emerging research area, said event co-organizer Terrence Bell. We also greatly credit the speakers, who frequently referenced each other's talks, giving a strong sense of cohesion and storytelling throughout the week.

It is impressive to see many different fields of research come together, cooperating in pursuit of common goals. This symposium had something to offer for everyone, presenting perspectives from from industry and academia with sessions sharing innovative approaches relevant to both basic and applied research. This meeting really highlighted the diversity of research in our field, said Bell.

Breaks offered invaluable networking opportunities for attendees, which included all levels from undergraduate to PhD. The schedule allowed ample time to mingle with academics and industry professionals between thought-provoking presentation sessions, said Amanda Mainello, M.S. Student. The timing between each session and event went smoothly and it was clear how much thought and effort went into the scheduling. 

Guests found that the title Wild and Tamed Phytobiomes perfectly encapsulated the goals and focus of the symposium. The title framed the discussion in a way that I hadn't seen at other meetings said Bell. 

The thought that was put into crafting the sessions and synergy between the speakers was obvious, said Trudi Baker, who spoke at the event. I was inspired by the confluence of scientific disciplines brought together in the phytobiome, and the engaged and open discussion.

We would like to give special thanks to all of the sponsors that made this event possible; The Phytobiomes Journal, Pacific Biosciences, Wright Labs,  NewLeaf Symbiotics, Pall Life Sciences and departments within Penn State including the Department of Entomology,  Department of Food Science,  Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology,  Department of Plant Science,  Eberly College of Science,  Huck Institutes of Life Sciences,  Microbiome Center,  Strategic Networks and Initiative Program,  Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education.