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SBD 2012 Annual Meeting Highlights

Posted by , on 23 July 2012

Montreal is open and friendly, and this spirit was captured by the 71st annual SDB meeting that just wrapped up in this great city. The conference atmosphere was relaxed and open, with a lot of unpublished work presented, and thoughtful and productive question periods. Many different fields were represented by developmental biologists hailing from all over the world, but it was a particularly great meeting for those interested in gene regulation, enhancers, and transcription factor function. The full program and abstracts are publicly available on the meeting website here.

There were some really excellent talks coming from surprising model systems. The meeting started out Thursday evening with Nicole King giving a convincing argument for the importance of an ancestral choanoflagellate-like cell and its interactions with bacteria to the development of multicellularity and numerous modern cell types. Elaine Ostrander made a compelling case for the genetic utility of purebred dogs, and how they can help identify genes that control different traits. Not to be left behind, the mouse model stood its ground in Andy McMahon‘s presentation about his lab’s latest work on the hedgehog pathway.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday had jam-packed schedules with concurrent sessions and poster sessions every day. The venue was really well-suited to jumping between concurrent sessions, which was great. I was really amazed by the quality of all of the talks. It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the nitty-gritty details of which methylated histone marks what, or which transcription factor binds where and is a co-factor for what else, but speakers like Eileen Furlong, Scott Barolo, Benoit Bruneau, and many, many others gave outstanding talks about epigenetic regulation in different developmental contexts. It’s clear that the field of enhancer function and gene regulation is going in the direction of chromatin-based mechanisms. Many teams are looking at chromatin modifications in specific cell types and stages, which is a major advance in understanding enhancer function in the embryo.

The imaging session was also particularly impressive. My favorite was Maria Barna‘s talk on visualizing Sonic hedgehog particles in vivo in the mouse embryo. Her lab’s beautiful live images may completely change our model of Shh signaling.

The late-night session on trends in publishing was also really interesting, with 6 representatives of different journals giving their opinions on where developmental biology is going, and how journals are changing. The journals Development, Developmental Biology, Current Biology, Nature Reviews Genetics, Science, and the new journal eLife were there. Overall, integrating fields that have traditionally been separate (for example, development and stem cells, molecular biology and evolution) are becoming more and more important. eLife was also a hot topic of discussion, with its unique peer-review process and business model up for debate. Beverly Purnell mentioned that Science is experimenting with changes to peer-review, such as asking reviewers to weigh in on the others reviewers’ comments.

The conference wrapped up Sunday evening, first with the awards ceremony. Steve Farber gave a heart-warming presentation about BioEYES, an education program that won the Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize this year. Cliff Tabin, winner of the Edwin G. Conklin Medal, presented the talented students and postdocs that have brought his lab to life, and Antonio Garcia Bellido, winner of the Developmental Biology-SDB Lifetime Achievement Award spoke about his life’s work. The meeting came to a close with a classy banquet and lively dance floor- the idea for a Santana tribute band was clearly a success!

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