Last week, I was lucky enough participate in the first ever Plant and Pollen Metabarcoding Workshop at the University of Würzburg in Würzburg, Germany. The workshop was organized and led by Dr. Alexander Keller. In addition to Alex, we had two amazing teachers: Wiebke Sickel (PhD student, teacher for the lab portion), and Markus Ankenbrand (PhD student, teacher for the data clean up portion).
But, what is plant and pollen metabarcoding? In as non-science terms as possible, plant and pollen metabarcoding is a way to identify which plant some sort of plant material (like pollen!) came from. For example, using a pollen trap, I could collect pollen from my honey bees and extract the pollen’s DNA. Using Sickel et al.’s method, I could then process the pollen DNA to sequence it in the lab. Once the DNA is sequenced, I could use what I learned from Alex and Markus to sift through the data, and match my sequences to existing databases. After a lot of coding/data analysis, I would be able to tell which plants my bees were foraging at!
This method can be used to answer so many questions regarding pollinators and the ecosystem services (pollination!) they provide. This was clear in the diversity of projects that were presented at the end of the workshop: study systems ranged from Argentinean bats, to syrphid flies (bee flies), and of course, bees (both bumble and honey)!
Aside from being lucky enough to learn how to use plant and pollen metabarcoding, I was also lucky enough to meet pollination biologists, molecular biologists, and ecologists from all over the world! I discussed science with—and got to know—people from Argentina, Canada, Estonia, Germany, India, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US. After the workshop, we met for dinner, drank wine, and visited beer gardens. One night, we ordered pizza and had a Mario Kart tournament (I came in 5th out of 12, not terrible)!
And lastly, I was lucky enough to see the city of Würzburg—a beautiful city with lots of history! One of my favorite parts of the city was the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge). The bridge is the oldest stone bridge in Würzburg (it was built between 1473-1543) and is adorned with 12 baroque-style statues (added to the bridge in 1730) of various important people.
Among the statues is one of St. Kilian. The story of St. Kilian is an interesting one—he was beheaded in Würzburg (about 689) by the orders of Duke Gozbert. Despite his beheading (I imagine there was a reason for it), St. Kilian remains the favorite patron saint of Würzburg.
Also on the Old Main Bridge is Alte Mainmühle—a restaurant that has delicious food (the best bratwurst I had while in Germany) and sells wine by the glass. For a deposit of 5 €, you can take your glass of wine (Würzburg is known for their Franconian white wine) and stroll the bridge and the nearby Marktplatz (Market Place).
On my last full day in Germany, those of us who remained went for a hike up to the Festung Marienberg (Marienberg Fortress). The fortress was the home of prince-bishops for nearly five centuries and was used during the wars of the late 18th and 19th centuries. During World War II, British bombs severely damaged the fort; repairs were not complete until 1990!
On our hike up to the fortress, we saw lots of pollinators (bumble bees, mining bees, and bee flies to name a few) but the best part of our hike was the amazing view of the city at the top!