ICAR2016 Meeting Report: William Broad

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Published on: August 5, 2016

Submitted by William Broad (University of Oxford)

I was very grateful to receive a travel bursary from the Gatsby Foundation and GARNet to attend the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research 2016 (ICAR2016), held in the city of Gyeongju, South Korea. The location and number of attendees gave this event a much different atmosphere and made for a unique experience in comparison to the small subject-specific gatherings I have attended in the UK. While even small conferences attract an international audience, due to their locations, they are typically populated by those living just a cheap flight away. Therefore when attending a conference on the other side of the planet, with the vast majority of delegates coming from Korea, China, and Japan, it was amazing to discover the cutting edge research that is occurring in East-Asia.

ICAR2016 offered a great opportunity to delve deeper into my own field of organellar biology, as well as to become acquainted with the areas of research that simply attracted my attention. Indeed, there were many interesting talks and here I will briefly highlight a few memorable speakers.

JenSheenThe conference opened with a key note lecture delivered by Professor Jen Sheen, who began in contrast to the typical fashion of justifying why plant science is important, by displaying some of her own craftsmanship of photography and horticulture, to instead remind us how diverse and beautiful plants really are. Professor Sheen has spent much of her career delving into the world of how sugars, mainly glucose and also nitrates, act as a signalling molecules in plants. Dissecting this process is truly an interesting topic for a cell biologist, these processes are important to organisms at a multitude of levels, and critically they are not static, and are among a tangle of interconnections. Professor Sheen’s description of these processes made for an excellent talk at the cutting edge of molecular biology.

In organellar biology I was excited to meet Dr. Jesse Woodson, who presented the findings of his recent Science paper (Woodson JD, et al. 2015. Science 350:450-4) together with some previously unseen data. Jesse and colleagues from Professor Joanne Chory’s lab, has found that stressed chloroplasts can be selectively degraded by the vacuole, something not previously observed, and that this process is triggered in part by a cytosolic ubiquitin-proteasome system E3 ligase called PUB4. A really cool piece of this talk was the 3-D image of the engulfment process generated by TEM, which offers far more detail and insight than the 2D representation. This work raises interesting questions regarding how the chloroplast can communicate its stressed state externally to the cytosol and how that results in it being specifically selected for degradation by the vacuole.

An unexpected highlight for me was the work presented by Professor Ikuko Hara-Nishimura, whose lab’s research focus is on the directional growth and movement of plants. She presented data regarding a group of regulatory factors of such movement – components of the cytoskeleton, mysosins XIf and XIk, and Actin8. Mutants of these proteins exhibit hyper-bending in response to gravity, the plants therefore seem to overshoot their reorientation as if there is nothing to put the brakes on once bending has been triggered. Curiously, in at least one of these mutants the circadian up and down oscillation of Arabidopsis rosette leaves is absent, a finding punctuated by an enthusiastic attendee sitting behind me booming ‘That is interesting! That’s Really interesting!’.

On the last day of the conference I was able to see a talk by Professor Harvey Millar, which was on plant proteomics. Specifically with regard to how the proteome of the Arabidopsis leaf changes over time during growth, what the turnover rates of individual plant proteins are, and even calculation of the energy cost of protein turnover in different leaves. What could have come across as a mundane stamp-collecting aspect of biology was presented as something much more, the results of which appear to give great insights into how these plants manage this aspect of their economy during growth.

Broad_13599898_10153845726471676_7147785929705411430_nFinally, it is important not to forget the value of meeting fellow researchers, the coffee breaks and evenings spent at the bar were as appreciable as attending the talks. As a young researcher I found attending ICAR2016 to be a formative experience. I was able to see first-hand what my fellow researchers are doing and how they are doing it, put faces to the names atop the papers I’ve been reading, and discuss science with fellow PhD students, post-docs, PIs and long established professors. I was able to gain exposure to new ideas in research and, as I was privileged enough to give a presentation, I received helpful feedback on my own work. My experiences there really turned the competitive publish-or-perish mentality of science on its head and revealed a community of interested people driven by curiosity.

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