XV Cell Wall Meeting 2019

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Published on: July 23, 2019

By Christian Donohoe (@donohoho), University of Edinburgh

For my first conference since starting this PhD I attended the triennial XV Cell Wall Meeting, which in its latest iteration was at the University of Cambridge, with Professor Paul Dupree as the chair of the local organising committee. Along with my lab the Edinburgh Cell Wall Group and my supervisor Professor Stephen C. Fry, we came down for the week to present posters on our work and for Stephen to give a talk.

Stephen C. Fry showing Thuryya Al Hinai’s work studying  the enzymes behind fruit ripening

The meeting covers all disciplines related to plant cell wall research so there was a diverse mix of expertise in attendance, ranging from physicists studying secondary cell wall structure in poplar wood using atomic force microscopy, to geneticists over-expressing or supressing genes to uncover the effect of certain enzymes on cell wall structure. Even though I come from a mainly chemistry background this was of no hindrance as the 15-minute talks were all well designed and approachable for anyone with a scientific background.


Posters were hung and left standing all week to allow for casual browsing/lurking during lunches and coffee breaks. This relaxed ambiance carried across into the poster presentations, allowing for easy introductions and bustling halls of conversation throughout each session. I managed to engage with many posters and their presenters, mainly focusing on cell wall structure but the posters themselves were again were well written, so even the mass spec analysis posters that spared no detail were understandable when guided by the author.

Christian proudly presents his poster @donohoho

Throughout the years the meeting has been running there have been certain themes as the field has progressed, and currently it is said to be the ‘practical age’ of plant cell wall research – taking the tools and discoveries from the past 40 years and applying them in fields such as modifying cotton cell walls for physical improvements of the collected fibres, or the genetic optimisation of crop development for biofuel production. A particular highlight was from PhD student James Cowley from the University of Adelaide, looking the utilisation of seed mucilage of the plantago for better gluten-free bread.


Another highlight for me was the focus on personal workplace responsibility, equalities, and ethics that were discussed in busy well-attended sessions. Starting with Dame Professor Athene Donald and keeping pace from there, the talks covered a wide range of important issues that are usually only quietly acknowledged, and it was good to see open challenges to the biases of today people face, with clear instructions for how to help those around you. #just1action4WIS

From a early postgrad perspective, the diversity at the senior levels of research does not reflect the broad range of PhD students currently studying or graduating – by discussing these issues, putting in the time to listen, and vigilant self – criticism we can all work to improve this.

Edinburgh Cell Wall Group
Back: Marie Rapin, Ninni Nuorti, Stephen C. Fry
Front: Christian Donohoe, Thuryya Al Hinai, Lenka Frankova, Rifat Ara Bergum
Photo @donohoho

In all, it was a pleasure and a privilege to attend such a meeting, special thanks to the GARNet travel grant for helping me afford to attend the meeting. For the next meeting I am greatly looking forward to presenting my entire PhD work in 2022, when the meeting will be held in beautiful Malaga, Spain.   



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