Guest blog: Peroxisomes explored in Germany meeting

Will Stanley (Research Associate, Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, UK), a Biochemical Society General Travel Grant recipient, shares his experience at a peroxisome meeting in Germany. Find out more about General Travel Grants on our website.

I’ve been to the 4th Open European Peroxisome Meeting (OEPM) in Neuss, near Düsseldorf in the Ruhr region of Germany. So have about 150 other people. It may come as a surprise to some that Europe has such a thriving community dedicated to researching a small and deceptively insignificant organelle.

However, the humble peroxisome has some major parts to play in human health, with a number of severe diseases ensuing from malfunction, emerging roles in cellular senescence and novel avenues in drug targeting to specialized peroxisomes in microbial pathogens*.

OEPM has something of a tradition of giving the stage to PhD students to present their work in an international setting with an audience ranging from novitiates to experts and emeritus peroxisome enthusiasts. Most talks cover recently published or soon to be published work, which gives every OEPM a vibrant, cutting-edge agenda.

It’s intriguing to see how trends change over the years and how one “star” protein or point mutant can jump out as a hot topic and be touched upon by a number of talks. One thing that particularly struck me (as a structural biologist) this time was the change in trends of structural techniques being applied to peroxisomal components – while previous OEPMs have showcased crystal structures of important peroxisomal proteins, it’s now become necessary to look at mechanistic details things that will not readily crystallise, for example large flexible and disordered domains are yielding some very promising NMR structure/function data and multi-protein complexes from the peroxisomal membrane are being tackled by cross-linking mass spectrometry and electron microscopy, leading to some quite unexpected results.

During the three days of the conference, 35 talks were given and 62 posters presented. People came along from 14 countries – mostly in Europe but also as far afield as China, South Korea and Canada. The conference organisers kept us all neatly tucked away in the conference centre and made sure to feed us well and provide plenty to drink in the evening – especially at the magnificent conference barbecue (Germans know a lot about good barbecuing).

Thus, plenty of socialising went on, with inevitably dubious jokes about peroxisomes occasionally escaping. The whole affair was pretty anarchic and the novitiate and emeritus delegates all muddled in together, which makes for an excellent scientific community spirit beyond the duration of the conference. And, as usual for OEPM, there was a free exchange of ideas. I found this especially helpful as I had gone along with a new research avenue in mind. I was delighted to find that nobody at the conference seemed to think I was crazy to be entertaining such notions and it looks like I’ve even managed to coax a couple of people into some new collaborative work.

I would like to warmly thank the Biochemical Society for the General Travel Grant which made this possible. OEPM happens every two years and has previously taken place in Leuven (BE), Lunteren (NL) and Dijon (FR). The 4th OEPM in Neuss (DE) was splendidly organised by Prof. Ralf Erdmann and his very enthusiastic team from the Ruhr Universität, Bochum (DE). The 5th OEPM will take place in Vienna (AT) in 2016 with Johannes Berger (Medical University of Vienna) leading the organisation.

*If you’re interested in finding out more about these mysterious little peroxisomes, an excellent recent review takes a look at them from a historical perspective: Vamecq, M. Cherkaoui-Malki, P. Andreolotti & N. Latruffe (2014). The human peroxisome in health and disease: The story of an oddity becoming a vital organelle. Biochimie 98: 4 – 15.

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