2 October 2020

NaToxAq final conference was an online success

The COVID-19 pandemic made us rethink how to organize our NaToxAq final conference, that was meant to take place in Brno, Czech Republic, in June. Early May we decided to convert it into an online conference that was now successfully held on September 24th and 25th.

Even though we converted to an online format, our aim did not change, as we wanted to create a unique platform to present the latest findings and develop new ideas among experts and young researchers. In the end, we reached about 170 participants not only from Europe, but also the US, Japan, India, Uruguay, Brazil and South Africa.

Our five sessions covered:

  • Emerging compounds and sources of natural toxins
  • Analysis of natural toxins, Sampling, and monitoring to determine exposure
  • Physicochemical properties, environmental distribution, and fate
  • Toxicity to aquatic/terrestrial organisms and humans
  • Risk assessment, removal, and management of natural toxins in (drinking) water

With three keynote lectures, 36 talks and 39 additional posters we got a very nice overview on all aspects of worldwide natural toxin research. Live discussions following each talk gave room for the participants’ questions, suggestions for future projects and even offers for collaboration.

Together we are now prepared to set the direction for future research in this rapidly evolving field and help guide water legislation. We are also looking forward to exciting science to be published in the article collection on natural toxins in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe (https://www.springeropen.com/collections/natural-toxins) with submission deadline on October 31st!

How to, when going online?
For sure, it was a challenge to make sure that the format could grasp a high level of dissemination comparable to a physical conference, where people form the audience can ask live questions and participants can engage in professional and social networking.

To overcome the first part, we asked all participants to pre-record their presentation and made sure, it was followed by a live Q&A session with an appointed chairperson from within the NaToxAq consortium and the presenter. – It turned out that it was huge success for people participating, as the partial live sessions connected participants across borders and continents. Overall, very good, fun and fruitful discussions were possible and the live chat function made it also easy for all participants to post questions and thereby engage in the live discussion.   

For the poster sessions we similarly had one or two chairpersons facilitating the live discussion with participants having the option to post questions, comments etc. in the live chat.
The opening and closing sessions were broadcasted live from Copenhagen where project leader Prof. Hans Christian Bruun Hansen gave a status of the project and line up the future perspectives of our research.

Prof. Hans Christian Bruun Hansen giving his opening talk

We were very lucky to have three amazing keynote lectures by Ingrid Chorus, Alan Stone and John Fawell that raised many interesting points relevant to all our research. All keynote talks were followed by extensive live discussions involving all participants and will certainly affect our future work in one way or another.

First keynote speaker, Ingrid Chorus (mid.), in a live discussion with two of NaToxAq’s key members (Klára Hilscherová (left) and Elisabeth Janssen (right)).

Best Poster and Best Talk
Just like in ordinary conferences we nominated the Best Poster and Best Talk. All chairpersons nominated one talk within each toppic, and based on the pre-recorded presentation and the live Q&A, the three keynote speakers appointed the best within the nominated. 

The winner of Best Talk was Erika Berenice Martinez Ruiz, Technische Universität Berlin, for the talk "Biotransformation of cylindrospermopsin by manganese-oxidizing bacteria"

The winner of Best poster was Mara Simonazzi, University of Bologna, for the poster "Degradation of cyanotoxins produced by the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa using chlorine-based compounds: implication for drinking water management"

Behind the scenes
We used the online meeting platform ZOOM, as the foundation of the online conference. It made it easy for people to attend, use the chat function, see other participants etc. For the actual broadcast, we engaged with a production company that could made sure to display the pre-recorded talks and pin the correct speakers to the screen at the right time.

The technical set up – one screen was definitely not enough!

NaToxAq hotspots
On three local NaToxAq hotspots we arranged get-together while keeping physical-distance satellite meetings. It was great fun to watch the conference broadcast live and catch-up with each other during the breaks!
Snap shots from the three satellites (Zürich (left), Copenhagen (mid.) and RECETOX, Brno (right).