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A conference abroad: Global Invertebrates Genomics Alliance (GIGA) V meeting in Cartegena, Colombia

About the author

Dylan in the field. Copyright Dylan Comb

Dylan Comb is a fisheries research associate at Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI) where he currently works on a population genetics study on Jonah crab as well as on a project using environmental DNA to assess biodiversity in tandem with traditional state fisheries surveys. His background is in ecology and field biology, with an interest in conservation science. Dylan’s career path has been very non-linear; he has worked as a fisheries observer, helped start a shellfish aquaculture farm, worked as a bicycle mechanic, and grew up spending as much time as possible on or in the waters of New England.

The Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA) hosted their fifth international conference in beautiful Cartegena, Colombia. As an incredibly fortunate recipient of a scholarship from AGA, I was able to participate. It was a great opportunity for me as an early career researcher to practice my presentation and communication skills by sharing my research with a wide network of attendees. The GIGA members are a diverse group of invertebrate genomics specialists representing countries across the globe. Immersing myself in this incredible experience, I found myself surrounded by a diverse array of scientists, spanning the spectrum from students to seasoned professionals in academia, industry, and beyond. The common thread that united us all was our shared commitment of “promoting standardized practices and to facilitate collaborations across the community of scientists working on invertebrate genomics.”

Presenting at the GIGA conference was a great chance to network and gain exposure to an international audience working within the field of genomics. I was able to briefly introduce the organization I work for [Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI)] and to share my research on the Jonah crab, Cancer borealis. GMGI is a growing non-profit whose mission is to address critical challenges facing our oceans, human health and the environment through innovative scientific research and education. My research focused on Jonah crab population genomics in the northwest Atlantic to inform stock delineation.

A Jonah Crab. Photo by the author.

Over the past several years, Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) has transitioned from a bycatch species of the lobster industry to a targeted fishery that is now one of the most lucrative in Massachusetts. Despite commercial interest in this species, there is scarce biological information regarding life history or abundance of the crab, and it is currently managed as a single homogenous stock from Maine to Virginia. In response to the high level of uncertainty regarding the impact of the Jonah crab fishery, a formal stock assessment is being undertaken. In preparation for this assessment, we conducted a genetic population structure assessment to provide necessary data on spatial structure and connectivity. Over 600 Jonah crab samples were collected from Canada to New Jersey in collaboration with commercial fishers and state biologists and we used a low-coverage whole-genome sequencing approach to analyze genetic differentiation between sampling locations. Preliminary results indicate weak population structure between Nova Scotia, New England, and New Jersey populations. Our findings will be combined with tagging, life history, and landings data to aid the Jonah Crab Technical Committee in establishing biologically relevant boundaries for stock delineation.

After presenting my work at the conference, as someone who is not the most comfortable in public speaking situations, I felt immediately relieved, followed by a creeping feeling of self-critical frustration about my nerve-induced stammerings during my talk. But after a couple hours, my feelings shifted from doubt to a sense of accomplishment and pridefulness when people came up to me to discuss my work, with affirmations regarding my presentation and helpful suggestions on ways to improve certain analyses. My biggest takeaway from this conference was my realization that there will always be slight discomforts when putting yourself in a new environment, but it’s completely worth the apprehension; you will overcome your nerves, practice important skills and grow from your experience, especially surrounded by people who have been precisely in your position at some point or another, which was exactly the case from the incredibly welcoming community at GIGA.

I am very grateful for the support from AGA and GIGA that made this whole trip possible – I almost forgot to mention how awesome it was to explore the nearby city, with historic forts, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture in the walled city, and some of the best seafood and ceviche I’ve ever had! I’m looking forward to exploring the connections I made at the conference, and to improving my research with the helpful recommendations I received from my new colleagues.

GIGA attendees
copyright Todd Oakley, GIGA president

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