Bloom and Renne host herpesvirus conference

Herpesvirus encompasses more than just what immediately comes to mind. Herpesviruses include chickenpox and infectious mononucleosis. It is also associated with some cancers.

This summer, Genetics Institute faculty members David Bloom and Rolf Renne, both professors of molecular genetics and microbiology, are co-chairing the International Herpesvirus Workshop, along with Lee Fortunato of the University of Idaho. The workshop takes place July 25 to 29 in Boise, Idaho. The UFGI is one of the sponsors. You can register at

“For me– I’ve attended these things since 1991, and after a while you feel like giving something back,” Bloom said. “We’re mainly responsible for the scientific program.”

Morning sessions will feature a keynote speaker followed by a talk on each subfamily of the virus: alpha, beta and gamma. After sessions will feature a number of parallel talks. This year the focus is on four themes: immunology, non-coding RNAs, latency and epigenetics and signaling and innate immunity.

Innate immunity is a hot topic in the field, Renne said. It investigates how cells sense herpesvirus infections, and how that triggers antiviral mechanisms.

This year is the 40th iteration of the annual event. Organizers decided it was time to make some changes.

For the first time, the conference will include educational outreach within the local community. They have arranged with a couple local hospitals to do talks about shingles and other herpesviruses. Idaho is a major ranching state, and many of the ranchers and politicians are interested in hearing about how herpesviruses affect livestock.

“Scientists need to do a better job of talking to the public about why what we study is important,” Bloom said.

They have also introduced lunchtime sessions about increasing diversity in science– how to better include women and underrepresented ethnicities– and a job fair.

The organizers want to offer younger researchers opportunities to find their way in the field.

About a third of people who earn a doctorate go back into academia, Bloom said. They wanted to set up a forum that would showcase additional options.

“This is the stepping stone,” Renne said. “This is how they get their next job.”

The organizers lowered registration costs for graduate students and postdocs, and arranged opportunities to stay in dorms at the local university.

“We’re not only doing research– we’re training future scientists,” Renne said. “Our agenda has been to give as many talks to trainees as possible.”

They originally wanted to host the conference in Miami. Bloom said it is better equipped than Gainesville to accommodate a conference with 400 to 600 attendees from over a dozen countries. However, the scheduling meant it would be in the midst of hurricane season, and no one wanted to risk that.

So they settled on the seemingly unlikely destination of Boise, Idaho.

“I actually fell in love with the place,” Bloom said. “It’s got lots of mountains around it and hot springs.”

It also has plenty of places to socialize after hours.

“The main thing– there’s people talking about the science, the other part is the interactions– setting up collaborations between people,” Bloom said. “This is the way science starts new directions.”