By Tanya Foley
This year, the European Developmental Biology Congress experimented with an innovative conference format. A main meeting at Keble College in Oxford, UK, was complemented by two mini-hub meetings across continental Europe: one at Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, and the other at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona, Spain. This format, proposed by Sally Lowell and the British Society of Developmental Biology, was conceived to maintain the benefits of in-person scientific interaction, a valuable component of conference attendance, while decreasing the environmental impact and cost associated with travel.
As part of the Paris hub organizing team, alongside Sigolène Meilhac, Nicola Festuccia, Tom Cumming, and Guillaume Frasca, I was excited to be part of this ambitious project. The Paris hub hosted 68 participants from around the world, most of whom had travelled from either within France or continental Europe, thereby achieving the main goal of the meeting.
The morning of September 26 began with a Morphogenesis session shared between Paris and Oxford. This series of talks opened with Magali Suzanne from Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse. Magali spoke from Paris, sharing her work on mechanical forces exerted by apoptotic cells that contribute to tissue remodeling.
Following this, a series of fascinating talks seamlessly alternated between the Oxford and Paris locations. Those who spoke from Paris included Thibaut Brunet, who shared work from his lab at Institut Pasteur investigating the influence of environmental factors on multicellularity in choanoflagellates. He was joined by Adriano Bolondi from the Max Planck Institut for Molecular Genetics in Berlin who shared work from his PhD thesis exploring the mechanisms by which transient progenitors undergo coordinated changes during embryonic development, and by Amélie Elouin, a PhD student from École Polytechnique in Paris, who presented her work on non-cell autonomous functions of myosin in cell migration during gastrulation. The diversity of research topics and model organisms represented within this session, shared by speakers from all career stages, made for an exciting start to the integrated portion of the meeting.
After a poster session at the Paris hub, a second session on Gene Regulation was hosted exclusively from Paris and streamed in Oxford. During this session, we were delighted by talks covering diverse mechanisms of gene regulation in embryonic stem cells by both Claire Rougeulle, from Université Paris Cité, who shared work from her group on the role long noncoding RNAs in X chromosome inactivation in primates, and a talk by Nicola Festuccia who presented his work on the essential role of orphan nuclear receptors during the transition from genome activation to lineage specification. Postdoctoral fellow Cara Piciotto from Institut Pasteur shared work on the effect of cell-to-cell heterogeneity in binary fate decisions mediated by Notch signaling, and Robin Rondon, a PhD student at Institut Jacques Monod, spoke about the molecular mechanisms by which BMP signaling regulates patterning in the developing spinal cord.
During these integrated sessions, highly engaged participants asked many questions from both locations, with the interconnected format both promoting scientific curiosity and establishing a synergy between the two sites that was maintained throughout the week.
During the rest of the conference, sessions were streamed from both Oxford and Barcelona on campus in the Francois Jacob amphitheater, maintaining the community atmosphere that was initiated earlier in the week. Paris delegates listened to the talks from Oxford and Barcelona as a group, discussing new and exciting concepts over coffee during breaks between each session. The collaborative spirit of the conference became particularly strong on the afternoon of September 27, when the Barcelona hub had their shared session with Oxford and all three sites were connected online at once.
In addition to the shared program integrated with Oxford and Barcelona, the Paris site hosted a poster session and evening cocktail social to promote further interaction among those at the hub. During the social event, Liza Sarde and Nisha Veits were each awarded a poster prize, and travel grants were given to Zeinab AlKobra AlHajj Hassan, Charlene Guillot, Joseph Leger, Xiaohui Liu, and Marcia Peixoto who travelled to Paris for the meeting. Congratulations to the awardees, as well as everyone who participated for their impressive achievements!
On September 28, the final day of the meeting, the French Society of Developmental Biology (Société Française de Biologie du Développement) Thesis Prize lecture was given by Julian Leclercq from Institut des Neurosciences, Paris-Saclay, who shared his PhD work on the evolution of gene regulation in the Astyanax mexicanus embryo with those present both in Paris and Oxford. This was followed by a final series of talks on Regeneration, Disease, and Aging, streamed from Oxford for those in Paris. Closing words from Paul Martin, Sally Lowell, and Shankar Srinivas from the Oxford organizing team marked the end of this first experiment in sustainable conferencing, which was a great success!
Head over to read Nawseen Tarannum ‘s meeting report from the Oxford hub’s perspective!