Well, I'm back in San Diego, and people have been asking me about ASM (in person, if not in the comments), so I suppose I ought to fulfill my promise and actually write something about the talks.
National Academy member Lucy Shapiro gave a very interesting retrospective keynote on the history of her work on Caulobacter. Having worked on Hyphomonas, a related organism, I found it obviously relevant, but what I found especially interesting was the modest style of the talk. Lucy openly admitted that most of the work was done by her many students and postdocs over the years, and rather than just include their names on an unreadable slide at the end, she mentioned them by name in her talk in the relevant place as she discussed experiments that led to various discoveries about the development and cell cycle of Caulobacter.
Howard Frumkin of the CDC talked about doing "green science", reminding us that biomedical research uses over twice the amount of energy per unit space that the commercial sector does, and that it is important for scientists to "green their sector first" to avoid looking like hypocrites. Although he gave many interesting suggestions to reduce the environmental impact of science, I don't recall him questioning the need for big conferences like the ASM where thousands of scientists fly in from thousands of miles away. Replacing those with video conferences (admittedly much less fun) would greatly reduce the carbon footprint of science.
My ultimate boss, J. Craig Venter, gave a talk about current work in the Global Ocean Survey. Memorably, he started his talk with "I'm J. Craig Venter from an institute of similar name..."
Jonathan Eisen spoke on phylogenomics (link is to Kimmen Sjölander's page on the subject) and origin of novelty, nicely illustrating this rather theoretical notion that he originated with practical examples in his own research. Speaking of Eisen, the picture above was taken at a Red Sox game that I attended with Eisen, Eric Wommack, Jacques Ravel, and some of Eisen's Boston-based relatives. The bearded guy in my picture is Eisen himself, and if you zoom in, you may notice that he has "RecA" written on his hand. Don't we all write the name of our favorite proteins on our hands?