Report from 2019 FASEB meeting on Plant Development

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Published on: September 30, 2019

By Vicky Spencer, University of Bristol

This past summer I was very fortunate to receive a travel grant from GARNet to attend the highly anticipated FASEB Mechanisms in Plant Development conference. Many prominent scientists regularly join this biennial event; this time held in the quiet town of Olean (New York) at Bonaventure University. Over 150 PIs, post docs and students attended from across the world, making it an exciting and diverse event. It was clear that the regular attendees have a lot of affection for this meeting, and there was a strong sense of support and community that was very welcoming.

I am a newly appointed postdoc at the University of Bristol, researching the genetic mechanisms of shoot branching evolution in vascular plants. This conference gave me a great opportunity to discuss the data that I have already collected and to elaborate my future project plans. I was lucky to present a poster in one of the three evening poster and drink sessions. After three hours of presenting, I had a lot of useful advice and inspiration for future experiments, including technical help for protoplast extraction and transformation.

Many tasks were added to my to-do list when I got back to Bristol!! 

The conference had an exciting and busy schedule of talks from many renowned scientists. This was a great opportunity to learn about the recent advances in the plant development field, and its future directions. Many talks focused on the role of the CLV signalling pathway; including kernel row patterning by Paula McSteen, maize meristem organisation and ROS signalling by Andrea Gallavotti, and filament identity in Physcomitrella patens from our lab member, Zoe Nemec Venza. I thoroughly enjoyed that there was a strong focus on evolution, with many examples of research in Marchantia polymorpha . In particular, I enjoyed talks about the role of CLE peptides in meristem specification by Yuki Hirakawa and ZHOUPI function in cuticle and pegged rhizoid formation by Yen-Ting Lu (also a recipient of a GARNet travel grant: Ed). 

Due to the alarming problems of plastic pollution and energy consumption, it is more critical than ever that biologists take responsibility for their environmental impact in the lab. Such issues were discussed in the Sustainability forum, which was a great way to raise awareness and share eco-friendly ideas between scientists. I think that this kind of event should become commonplace in scientific meetings, to encourage a sustained effort to reduce the environmental damage from our work. A single cell RNA-Seq workshop was also held, which was very timely and useful for the community as many attendees presented novel data from this new and exciting technique.

All meals and coffee breaks were held within the University campus, which was a great way to promote interactions between scientists at different stages of their careers. As well as thought-provoking scientific discussion, it was very useful for me to discuss career development with both new and established PIs and postdocs. I also talked to PhD students about my experiences and hope I have encouraged others to stay in research after graduating and be excited about life after the PhD thesis! 

Between the full schedule of talks and workshops, we went to ‘enjoy’ the local NY wine in the nearby winery, after a fun trip on an iconic yellow school bus.  We also visited a local lake for paddle boarding, which (once stood on the board) was very relaxing after a busy morning. These events were great fun and a lovely way to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. Everybody was so welcoming and friendly, and it was clear that both the people and the quality of science are why researchers come back to this meeting throughout their careers. 

As well as the generous travel funding from GARNet, thanks are due to Dr Jill Harrison and Dr Kenneth Birnbaum for organising such a great conference. I hope I have the opportunity to attend again in the future! 

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