It was a packed final two days of the EMBO 2012 meeting in Nice. It’s hard to pick out any overarching themes – the sessions were often very diverse – but I’ve picked out a few of my favorites below…
On Monday morning, Enrico Coen (John Innes Centre, Norwich) gave a great talk to kick off the “Genes to shape” session. As Coen’s lab has shown in the case of leaf development, to grow into the correct shape, tissues must be polarized so that growth occurs in the right part of the tissue. Coen presented a largely theoretical discussion of how both animal and plant tissues can generate tissue-wide (i.e. planar) polarity. I thought it was a really clear, thought-provoking presentation. Coen’s main point is that the mechanisms of animal and plant tissue polarity need not be so different from each other – all that’s required is a slightly different way for plant cells to couple with each other through their intervening cell walls.
In the same session, Floris Bosveld (Institut Curie, Paris) presented his recent paper describing how planar polarity can control Drosophila morphogenesis by altering the mechanical properties of cells. Markus Affolter (University of Basel) discussed blood vessel development in zebrafish, showing some beautiful live, in vivo microscopy movies of endothelial cells contacting each other and forming new lumens. Denis Menshykau (ETH Zurich) presented some computational models of branching morphogenesis in the lung and kidney. And Brigid Hogan (Duke University, Durham) described her lab’s identification of stem cells involved in the reapir of lung epithelia.
Monday afternoon featured a session on the microtubule cytoskeleton. Centrioles are structures that organize microtubules in both centrosomes and cilia/flagella. But centrioles themselves are made of nine microtubule triplets. Mónica Bettencourt-Dias (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras) described the role of the centriolar protein CEP135 in both centriole assembly and in the subsequent assembly of motile flagella. Flies lacking CEP135 have slightly shorter centrioles than wild-type insects, but CEP135’s most significant role is in initiating assembly of the central microtubule pair in flagellar axonemes, a function that CEP135 seems to achieve by binding and stabilizing microtubules.
Later in the session, Catarina Vicente (University of Oxford) presented a new way to dissect the roles of various proteins in centriole and centrosome assembly. There are several proteins whose depletion simply results in the complete absence of centrosomes, which isn’t useful for understanding their specific functions in centrosome biogensis. Vicente has developed a novel system that nicely gets around this problem, and her results will definitely be of great interest to centrosome biologists. Elsewhere in the session, François Nédélec (EMBL, Heidelberg) described how the architecture of the fission yeast spindle is optimized to withstand the forces it experiences during mitosis. Iva Tolic-Norrelykke (MPI-CBG, Dresden) showed how dynein drives nuclear oscillations in meiotic fission yeast. And session chair Andrea Musacchio (MPI, Dortmund) discussed how various components of the spindle assembly checkpoint are recruited to kinetochores.
On Tuesday morning, I switched cytoskeletons and attended the session on actin. Again, the session was very diverse, featuring talks from Dorit Hanein (Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla), who is mapping the precise positions of proteins involved in forming cell-matrix adhesions, and from Tea Vallenius (University of Helsinki) and Giorgio Scita (IFOM, Milan), who discussed the roles of actin regulatory proteins in forming, respectively, stress fibers and filopodia. There were also two talks on how pathogens hijack the actin cytoskeleton of their host cells and use to infect neighboring cells. Keith Ireton(University of Otago, Dunedin) presented data building on his previous work showing how a Listeria monocytogenes protein called InlC promotes bacterial spread by manipulating the host’s actin cytoskeleton to perturb intracellular junctions. And Michael Way (Cancer Research UK, London) described how Vaccinia virus can induce a burst of actin polymerization at the cell surface to propel the virus into neighboring cells.
Unfortunately, I had to leave before the meeting’s closing sessions on Tuesday afternoon. But it was a fantastic few days in Nice - great science in a great location. Can’t wait till EMBO 2013 in Amsterdam!