THE WIND RIVER CONFERENCE
50 YEARS AND BEYOND
In the Proceedings of the 25th Wind River Conference (Published by Marcel Dekker as Genetic Exchange :a celebration and a new generation, 1982) Sol Goodgal documents the beginning of the Transformation Meetings, which ultimately became the Wind River Conference on Genetic Exchange and Now the Wind River Conference on Prokaryotic Biology.
Let Sol then have the first word: "The origin of the transformation meetings can be traced back to the Cold Spring Harbor phage meetings...I can point out with certainty that the transformation meeting was conceived one summer evening in 1956 at Cold Spring Harbor and birth occurred the following spring in Baltimore...One evening at the phage meetings...I was walking down Bungtown Road with my boss Roger Herriott...and I finally gathered up enough courage to breach a proposition. Something like 'Why don't we have a meeting to discuss transformation?' It took Roger all of 10 milliseconds to respond... He had all kinds of suggestions, and we finally decided to hold the meeting at the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus in Baltimore...The meeting was small, 30 people, and lasted two days...The most remarkable presentation of the meeting was provided by...Rollin Hotchkiss, who wasn't even reporting on his own work. He talked about the famous Benoit-Vanderlay experiment on transformation in ducks. The details...are recorded in the literature, but what is not recorded is the drama of the presentation...The French investigators claimed they transformed one variety [of duck] into another, including their different waddles...First Rollin imitated the French investigator demonstrating the waddle of one duck moving across the stage and after transformation, the waddle of the transformed variety moving back in the opposite direction (this demo was reprised at the 25th WRC). From then the meeting was pure science...The tradition of choosing the next chairman and location also took place at the first meeting, and after very little deliberation, no one had to twist Arnold's (Ravin) arm to convene the second meeting...and the meeting at the University of Rochester was better attended than the first...Arnold passed the baton to Leonard Lerman, who made frequent excursions into the mountains from his home in Denver and discovered the Wind River Ranch, with the Hutchinsons, Helen and Bob, and proposed it for our next meeting. It was a stroke of genius; we all fell in love with the place." That meeting was in 1959.
And so it was that the meeting originated and quickly moved to the beautiful mountains of Colorado, specifically the Wind River Ranch, where we enjoyed first the hospitality of the Hutchinsons and for the last number of years the Irvins, strating with Bob and Nan and then Rob and Jerry. In fact of 40 conferences only 10 were at other sites. Our stay at Wind River Ranch ended in 1996 when the ranch was sold to private interests. We feel very happy to have the Aspen Lodge (next door to Wind River Ranch) as our home now for the meeting. The "home" aspect of the Colorado site is best illustrated by the fact that many of the "strange" memories emanate from sites other than there. The conference in 1968, convened by Sandy Lacks was unique by the fact that the grounds at Grossinger's was shared with thousands of other vacationers and you had to be lucky to meet someone with BACTERIAL transformation on his/her mind! At the Tapoco Lodge in North Carolina in 1973 Dave Dubnau convened the conference and led us in revolt against the management which listened in on our deliberations on a two way communications system! Also, those who are used to the casual atmosphere of the Colorado sites, imagine how we felt when at the first dinner at Tapoco the waiters and waitresses came out in high formal dress and the scientists could only hope to look invisible. The meeting at Penn State (convened by Ron Yasbin) was marked by superb presentations by Barbara McClintock, but also a strike and dormitory life. Sack Lodge in New York was site for the meeting convened by Rivka Rudner and was notable for limited beer supplies and unique bagel and lox presentations, as well as the end of assembly decisions for the site and convener appointments. From this meeting forward the Executive Council and the Advisory Board members choose the site and the next convener. This simplifies the process and provides continuity. In fairness, the off-Colorado sites provided tremendous diversity in attendance, usually good ambiance among the participants, and the quality of science at the conferences has never been dependant in any one site.
The Wind River Ranch had its interesting moments as well. Probably, one of the most notable was in 1975 when Alex Tomasz convened the conference on a warm and sunny afternoon. By the time the meeting was over, there were at least 21/2 feet of snow on the ground, and all of our cars had to be towed out to the highway, which had been cleared for a fairly harrowing trip down the mountain. By the time we got there, Denver was 90 F! On the other hand it was the most close-knit meeting of them all-no one could hike or drive into down to the beer pubs. Nevertheless, the site provides a ideal venue for the meeting. The weather is unpredictable (just in the last five years we have had summer and winter represented during our few days in the mountains), but the location provides a unique opportunity for congeniality, openness of discussion and presentation, and the easy spirit, which allows students to present and discuss their findings with experts in the field. Then, the location is a great starting site for ventures up Twin Sisters (there are records for up and down that are similar to fish stories) and many journeys to the other side of the valley and the countless trails and beautiful lakes that can be reached in just a few hours of hiking.
Primarily, the Wind River Conference is about science. The meetings are characterized by the state-of-the-art presentations, with scientists often talking about experiments which were concluded back at the lab that morning and the results faxed to the mountains! Then, there is ample time to build on discussions in small and bigger groups discussing the new and critical research areas. With anywhere from 60-100 or more attendees, there is a great diversity of interest and talent to lend their unique perspectives to all areas of research. Focus area speakers provide a strong theme to the meeting and give everyone a chance to talk in detail with some of the leading scientists in the country. The name of the Transformation Meetings was formally changed to the Wind River Conference on Genetic Exchange in 1987 primarily to expand the interest focus beyond just the transformation area, although even this past year a number of presentations dealt with aspects of transformation. In 1992 the name was generalized to the Wind River Conference on Prokaryotic Biology to include all of the areas of physiology-genetics, which the attendees were actively pursuing. The main focus of the meeting is on the molecular aspects of prokaryotc life and has been that way for many years. At the 25th conference, there was the first significant effort to raise money to subsidize some students and scientists. This effort has gained strength in the succeeding years, to where now students receive stipends to defray a part of their travel expenses and specific scientists can receive an honorarium for presenting focus lectures. In this regard the generosity of the National Science Foundation and the Genencor Corporation over the last several years must be mentioned. It would also be a sin not to mention the selfless work of Trudy and Neil Welker to produce, cart, store, and sell sweatshirts, nightshirts cups, etc. with the Wind River Conference logo. These sales provided good funds which were applied to student travel support and student prizes. Yes, the Wind River Conference has come a long way from its start on Bungtown Road and the first meeting in Baltimore. Many notable people have convened these conferences, sadly many of them are gone. Countless scientists from all over the world carry pleasant memories of the perfect sized meeting with the excellent science, in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. A great deal of science has been discussed and countless ideas have been generated at the meeting and then implemented in laboratories across the world. The beauty lies in the fact that the Conference still lives, is vital, and is still eagerly attended, even after its 50th anniversary. A strong testament of the enchantment of the Wind River Conference is that every year there are new attendees, who become lifelong Wind River Conference scientists. Always at a beautiful site, always with good friends and colleagues, and absolutely with the best of science.