Reports from ICAR 2013 – Emily Breeze

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Published on: July 25, 2013

This year GARNet was able to contribute to the travel costs of four students attending ICAR 2013, thanks to a kind donation from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. They will each write an article about their experience – here is the first, by University of Warwick student Emily Breeze.

Emily with her poster; and the inflatable plant cell BioBounce.

Global food security is one of the prominent challenges facing mankind with environmental stresses such as drought and pathogen attack causing significant crop losses worldwide. I am in the final year of my PhD at the University of Warwick researching the role played by the NF-Y transcription factor family in regulating the plant’s response to environmental stress, using the plant model organism, Arabidopsis thaliana.

I was fortunate to receive a travel bursary from GARNet funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, to enable me to attend the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR) in Sydney, Australia. ICAR is the primary international scientific conference for the Arabidopsis research community and around 700 delegates from all over the world attended over the five days, including a number of eminent scientists within my field of study. The conference was made up of a mixture of lectures from keynote speakers and concurrent symposium sessions on a wide variety of biological themes including development, epigenetics, proteomics, biotic interactions, systems biology, signalling, phenomics and translational biology. Although some of the topics were not directly related to my own research interests, they introduced me to novel techniques and approaches that I can potentially apply to my own research and/or in the future, as well as broadening my wider understanding of plant biology.

The thirteen keynote lectures given by internationally renowned plant scientists were all captivating. Professor Joseph Ecker (SALK Institute) gave a very impressive talk on the regulatory networks controlling hormone responses in which he outlined his laboratory’s recent research on the master regulator of the ethylene signalling pathway, EIN3 and its role as a major coordinator of widespread cross-talk between the hormone pathways. Prof. Ecker also introduced his group’s current research using a multi-faceted approach to elucidate a “multi-layered” regulatory network of hormone response.

Professor Kazuo Shinozaki (RIKEN, Japan), the most highly cited plant scientist in 2012, gave an interesting and comprehensive overview of his laboratory’s work into drought stress response, an area which has particular relevance to my own research. He discussed many aspects including the regulatory mechanism of NCED3, a key enzyme in ABA biosynthesis; intercellular regulation of ABA transport from the vascular tissue to the leaf guard cells, and the role of small peptides in long distance stress signalling. As director of the newly formed Centre for Sustainable Resource Science, Prof. Shinzaki also presented preliminary results from field trials of transgenic wheat and rice engineered to have increased drought tolerance.

Other personal highlights from the keynote lectures included Professor Ralph Bock’s (Max Planck) talk on horizontal gene transfer from organelle to organelle, cell to cell and even plant to plant; and Professor Julia Bailey-Serres’ (UC Riverside) presentation on ribosomal sequencing and the generation of the ‘mRNAome’ during hypoxia.

There were also several interesting talks in the themed symposium sessions. The Translational Biology symposium showcased several impressive examples of practical applications exploiting the knowledge gained from research in Arabidopsis. This included using plant cell walls as a carbon source in biofuel production (Geoff Fincher, Adelaide); improving Pennycress, a Brassicaceae, for use as biodiesel feedstock (Kevin Dorn, Minnesota) and field trials of transgenic wheat engineered, through the expression of a phosphite oxidoreductase from Pseudomonas stutzeri, to use phosphite, rather than phosphate, fertilizer (Luis Herrera-Estrella, Mexico).

I also enjoyed talks from, amongst others, Siobhan Brady (UC Davis) on gene regulatory networks in root development, and Alex Jones (Carnegie) on the Arabidopsis membrane interactome, both in the Systems Biology Symposium. Finally, Tony Millar’s (ANU) presentation on factors affecting the efficacy of microRNAs had particular relevance to my own work using artificial microRNAs to silence gene expression.

I was able to present my own research in the poster presentations and received a great deal of interest, providing me with an excellent opportunity to network with other scientists. This will hopeful be beneficial to my future academic career! I was also fortunate enough to discuss my research with two other groups working on the same group of transcription factors, with the potential to form international collaborations.

I am extremely grateful to GARNet for their support, which allowed me to attend the ICAR conference and provided me with an excellent opportunity to share my research and to network with international scientists with similar research interests. Pity about the rain though!


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