Repost: Message from David Kirk

After last week’s sad news that one of the founding fathers of Volvox research, David Kirk, had passed away, I thought it would be relevant to repost a message he sent a couple of years ago. The modern series of Volvox meetings started in 2011 in Arizona, and we’ve been calling them the First through Fourth International Volvox Conferences, with the Fifth scheduled for July 26-29, 2019. Dr. Kirk wrote in with some interesting historical insight about Volvox meetings that long preceded the current series:

I got an email out of the blue from David Kirk, and I thought some of it would be of interest. Dr. Kirk is one of the biggest names in Volvox research: he carried out much of the developmental genetics that forms the foundation of our field, he literally wrote the book on Volvox evo-devo, and my impression is that most of the PIs currently studying Volvox spent time in his lab as students and postdocs.


The email was prompted by the meeting review from the 2015 meeting in Cambridge (he liked it, whew! :-D), and he said that he’s looking forward to the 2017 meeting in St. Louis. The email also had a footnote with some interesting information, which I quote here with Dr. Kirk’s permission:

Point of historical information with regard to numbering of International Volvox meetings:
Back in the dark ages (in the late 70’s) Richard Starr, Bill Darden, Bob Huskey, Gary Kochert and I organized a series of four Volvox Meetings each of which could well have been designated “International,” because each was attended by Lothar Janeicke (Universitat zu Köln) and/or Lee and Kemp (Simon Fraser University, British Columbia). So in one sense, the 2015 event was the “Seventh International Volvox Meeting.”
There were 35 registrants at the first meeting, held At Wash U. around 1975. The 2nd was held at U. Va and the 3rd and fourth were both held at U. Ga.
After the first meeting, the Volvox group underwent exponential growth. Unfortunately, however, the exponent was negative.
Therefore, when it came time to consider the possibility of a 5th meeting, no interest was exhibited by anyone outside of our group and Bob Huskey’s. So there then occurred a bit of a hiatus (just about 30 years in length) between successive “International Volvox Meetings.”

I didn’t know any of that, and I don’t remember hearing anyone mention it. I think it’s fair to say that the exponent has recently become positive. A bit later, he added:

Matthew, I just had my memory jogged again:
The meeting at Wash U was the first “Organized” Volvox meeting, and the first one that was in any sense “International”. But it came about as result of an earlier impromptu Volvox meeting on Asilomar beach in Pacific Grove, CA.
The ASM (American Society for Microbiology) sponsored a meeting at Asilomar in the mid 60’s entitled “Simple Microbial Developmental Systems”–or something like that. Richard Starr was one of the featured speakers. Having learned about it in advance–by one means or another–three neophytes who had recently started working with Volvox cultures showed up, namely: Bob Huskey, Lucy Shapiro and Dave Kirk. (Lucy would coauthor just one or two papers on Volvox before going on to achieve her fame with Caulobacter, and as the head of Developmental Biology at Stanford). Somewhere I have a picture of the four of us on the beach at Asilomar following Richard’s presentation—exchanging ideas and suggesting the possibility of organizing a meeting of everyone interested in Volvox research—with Kirk offering to host it the following year at Wash. U. The rest, as they say, is history……

There was also a Volvox Symposium in honor of David and Marilyn Kirk at Washington University in St. Louis in 2007. That one would have to be considered “International” as well, because I remember (among others) Hisayoshi Nozaki and Aurora Nedelcu presenting (Prof. Nozaki even introduced a new Volvox speciesVolvox kirkiorum).

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