Comparative Approaches to Grand Challenges in Physiology-updates

Image from the American Physiological Society's website. Image from the American Physiological Society's website.…

I am really excited about the comparative physiology conference that starts this weekend in San Diego! Here is a press release about the meeting (author Stacy Brooks from the American Physiological Society):

Bethesda, Md. (September 25, 2014) — More than 400 comparative and evolutionary physiologists will gather to present new research and discoveries in animal physiology at the American Physiological Society’s 2014 intersociety meeting “Comparative Approaches to Grand Challenges in Physiology” (October 5–8, 2014, in San Diego). Comparative physiology takes advantage of the diverse evolutionary histories and ecological settings of animals to inform understanding of basic physiological processes and identify the mechanisms that animals use to solve specific physiological challenges. Researchers can use these insights to shine light on general physiological principles that can apply to all animals, including humans.

APS will jointly host the meeting with the Society for Experimental BiologySociety for Integrative and Comparative BiologyAustralian and New Zealand Society for Comparative Physiology and BiochemistryCanadian Society of ZoologistsCrustacean Society and International Society for Neuroethology. View the full program:

“This meeting will bring together a diverse and international array of physiologists interested in understanding how animals work in their natural environment. I am enthusiastic about the breadth of the science to be presented, ranging from how tiny invertebrates deal with harsh environments, to the challenges of mammalian hibernation, to the evolution of physiological traits in nature and in the lab,” said conference chair Bernard B. Rees of the University of New Orleans. “I am especially excited about the robust participation by the other sponsoring societies to advance comparative physiological research around the world and to facilitate new ideas and networks within our community.”

Meeting highlights include:

Plenary Lectures

  • Opening the Black Box: How Physiology Links Genomes to Animal Function
    Speaker: Patricia Schulte, University of British Columbia, Canada
    Sunday, October 5, 5–6 PM P.T.
  • Macrophysiological Forecasting for Policy in a Changing World
    Speaker: Steven L. Chown, Monash University, Australia
    Wednesday, October 8, 8:30–9:30 PM P.T.


Nearly 300 research abstracts will be presented as oral or poster presentations. Highlights include:

  • Phenotypic plasticity across the annual cycle in a migratory bird
    Migratory birds quickly gain and lose fat stores depending on their life stage. They need to store large amounts of fat before making long-distance flights, but then must lose the fat quickly post-migration to improve flight performance and avoid predators. Paul Schaeffer et al. studied the role of PPARs—nuclear receptors involved in regulating metabolism—for insights into how the birds control fat accumulation based on migration patterns.
  • Adaptive variability in salinity tolerance explains habitat variability between genetically distinct populations of Sacramento splittail
    Dozens of papers at this meeting will address how populations of fish and marine organisms adapt to water salinity (saltiness). In this study by Christine Verhille et al., researchers observed how the genetically different populations of the Sacramento splittail—a species of concern in California—appear to be adapted to local conditions. While some inhabit and spawn in cool freshwater, others thrive in warmer water with a higher salinity. The results could have implications for species management strategies.
  • Age-related changes in flight muscle ultrastructures of the hawk moth, Manduca sexta: a novel non vertebrate animal model for investigating vertebrate skeletal muscle function, disease, degeneration and aging
    Bernard Wone et al. explore the use of hawk moth to examine the effects of aging on the structure of muscle. The flight muscle of the hawk moth is metabolically similar to the vertebrate skeletal muscle in mouse. They may provide a new experimental non-vertebrate animal model for investigating skeletal muscle function, disease, degeneration, and aging.
  • Mechanisms for suppression of oxygen delivery and consumption in hibernating brown bears
    In this collaborative, international study, Angela Fago et al. explore the biochemical signals that suppress metabolism and oxygen delivery during hibernation in brown bears. They provide evidence that hydrogen sulfide, the chemical that makes rotten eggs stink, is present in plasma of hibernating bears at concentrations that may help suppress metabolism.
  • Corticosterone responses and the ability of birds to cope with environmental change
    Like most other animals, birds live in changing and sometime unpredictable environments. New Zealand scientist John Cockrem focuses on variation among individual birds, penguins in particular, to see if stress hormone levels were related to penguin personality. He suggests that birds with higher stress hormone levels will be better able to cope with environmental change.
  • What limits performance in wild Pacific bluefin tuna?
    Holly Shiels et al.’s research explores the role physiology plays in determining the distribution and behavior of bluefin tuna. These fish live in a mid-zone in the water (neither close to the bottom, nor the shore), occupy the largest geographic niche of all tuna, and are able to maintain heart function across a variety of water temperatures. The research team conducted a massive field study of tagged tuna to determine body temperature, habitat temperature and migration to estimate energy expenditure. They will integrate the field data with measurements made in the lab to test links between physiology and performance of these top predators.
  • Physiological responses to drought in garter snakes
    California’s record-breaking drought conditions have wreaked havoc on much of the population, including its native garter snakes. Amanda Sparkman et al. found severe alternations among garter snake populations in the northeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains caused by the continuing drought conditions. Their research reports evidence of physiological changes in these garter snakes—and the implications for snake populations in California—in the face of continued drought conditions.
  • Real-time physiology: can it assist aquaculture productivity?
    Sarah Andrewartha et al. contribute their research to the growing body of work focused on understanding the conditions that enable target aquaculture species to thrive. They present findings on how environmental factors, such as temperature, water depth, and light level, affect oysters raised on aquaculture farms.


The meeting will present three concurrent symposia tracks featuring 75 invited lectures in the following areas of research:

  • Physiological Responses to Extreme or Changing Environments
  • Evolutionary and Developmental Physiology
  • Transport, Digestion, and Locomotion


The meeting will also feature two workshops, one for trainees addressing the shortage of tenure-track jobs in academia and a second on alternative careers for comparative physiology researchers:

  • Trainee Workshop: Non-Traditional Career Paths for Comparative Physiologists
    Chairs: Cassondra Williams, University of California, Irvine; Bernard Rees, University of New Orleans
  • The Challenge of Teaching Physiology in a Changing Environment: Innovation and Resources
    Chairs: Tom W. Ecay, East Tennessee State University; Karen Sweazea, Arizona State University



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