The plenary opening session on RNA covered the molecular. David Tollervey and Elisa Izaurralde described biochemical processes in RNA processing and post-transcriptional regulation, and Rob Singer showed techniques to follow single mRNA molecules through their lifetime.
In the breakout session on cell competition, several speakers described the processes by which neighbouring cells communicate with each other and decide who survives and who dies. Laura Johnston focussed on homeostatic signalling pathways that determine cell competition, and how this affects organ growth. What happens to the cells that lose the cell competition? Jean-Paul Vincent showed how dying cells in the developing fly wing are delaminated (excluded from the epithelium). And what do the winner cells do? According to Eduardo Moreno, winner cells kill loser cells, but then “leave the corpses”: other cells are in charge of removing the loser cells. More about this interesting breakout session can be found in Ben Short’s account on the JCB blog.
In the afternoon I attended the optogenetics session, to learn a bit about this technique. Optogenetics is a way to use lightresponsive receptors and guided light stimulation to induce cell behaviour in living organisms. For example, Herwig Baier used the technique to monitor eye movements and prey capturing behaviour in zebrafish embryos.
This year’s special lecture was given by Eric Karsenti, and covered biology at the ecosystem scale. Karsenti integrated the microscopic with the macroscopic in his talk: He described circulation and currents in the oceans, considering the planet as a whole, but dove into the molecular detail of the world’s oceans when he talked about the data that his TARA OCEANS project collected. The TARA project involved sailing around the world along a preplanned route that would cover as many different ecosystems as possible, and collecting not just biological samples, but also measuring oceanographic data along the way. The voyage involved two hundred people from 35 countries, who collected 27,000 biological samples at 153 measuring stations. The numbers of samples and the amount of data collected is absolutely staggering, and you can find out more on the TARA OCEANS website. I really enjoyed seeing some of the videos that Karsenti showed at the end of his talk: everywhere the boat moored, local school kids got a chance to visit the ship, and everyone on board - from sailing staff to scientists – was able to educate visitors about the project.
Following Karsenti was EMBO Gold Medal winner Jiří Friml, but I’ll leave that for a separate post, as I also had a chance to interview him separately for the Node.
In the evening I attended the PhD Meets Postdoc party, despite being neither a PhD student nor a postdoc. It was great to meet so many people there from labs around the world: Not quite as much variation as Karsenti found in the oceans, but it was close!