June 8, 2022
By Mira Word Ries—Global Locust Initiative (GLI)
On May 20–21, 2022, Global Locust Initiative (GLI) team members traveled to Texas A&M University to participate in a successful launch event for the $12.5 million NSF-funded Biological Integration Institute: Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI). The BPRI is the first virtual institute of its kind, dedicated to studying all aspects of phenotypic plasticity. After the COVID-19 pandemic delayed in-person meetings, the event, called the “BPRI Bootcamp”, provided an excellent opportunity to network, workshop ideas, and explore the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the participants. The bootcamp brought together 38 faculty, staff, and students across Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Washington University in St. Louis, and the USDA ARS.
BPRI researchers cover a wide range of expertise, including genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics, single-cell genomics, genome editing, neurophysiology, collective behavior, nutritional physiology, microbiome, and ecophysiology. Our team at Arizona State University focuses on the latter two topics and is collaborating with these institutions to 1) understand the molecular and ecological underpinnings of locust phenotypic plasticity using powerful genomic and neurobiological tools, 2) train a cohort of broadly interdisciplinary graduate students, and 3) leverage our global stakeholder network to facilitate real-time feedback to the institute’s research.
The first day of the bootcamp started with lightning talks from each PI and team to showcase their role in the BPRI. A tour of the locust rearing and research facilities followed and transitioned into a series of breakout sessions to develop integrative research questions. The second day started with a discussion on the strengths and challenges of the new institute. This was followed by facilitated discussions on transdisciplinary science, diversity, equity, and inclusion, updates from the education and outreach committees, and finally a student-run question and answer session. The bootcamp concluded with a visioning session on the path forward. Overall, it was an excellent reminder that in-person gatherings have the power to forge new connections, strengthen understanding, and spark new ideas.