Rising stars encouraged to shine at Biochemical Society Sponsored Event

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‘The UK/EU Dicty Christmas Meeting 2014 took place on 17th and 18th December in Somerville College, Oxford. Researchers from all over the UK, coming as far afield as Dundee and Cambridge, gathered to discuss a diverse range of biological features of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. The meeting also attracted delegates from Europe with visitors from Holland, Germany and France.

Twenty talks were spread over 5 sessions. The meeting was intentionally designed to provide a forum for early career scientists to shine. Nearly half the talks were from PhD students and the majority of the remainder from young post-docs. Seven of the talks were from rising female scientists. The opportunity to chair a session was given to post-docs and newly established group leaders as they deftly handled the invigorating discussion.

The support of The Biochemical Society was critical to the success of this meeting, making it affordable for a range of participants, especially graduate students.

A number of talks centred on approaches to understand chemotaxis and its regulation, with integration of approaches ranging from imaging and genetics to quantitative proteomic analysis of phosphorylation changes. Dictyostelium researchers continue to be at the forefront of technology with talks describing analysis of RNA sequencing data from single cells to study heterogeneity as well as modelling of adhesion forces.

Dictyostelium continues to be a strong model system for studying a variety of human diseases, as illustrated by talks on DNA repair and the g-secretase complex implicated in cancer and Alzheimer’s disease respectively. Dictyostelium is also being used to screen for bitter tasting compounds, facilitating the development of more palatable drugs without the use of animals.

The social aspects of the Dictyostelium lifestyle and the large number of wild isolates available make it an ideal system for studying the evolution of social behaviour and competition, and evidence was presented for varying ability of Dictyostelium to feed on different types of bacteria, which may reflect the different ecological niches they were isolated from and explain why those which are less fit in the laboratory can survive in the wild in the same location as more robust variants.

The meeting finished with a discussion of amoeboid sex, with presentation of the structure of proteins which define the mating type and speculation as the evolution of the co-existence of the sexual and asexual social life cycles.

The wide range of high quality science made this an exciting meeting with much discussion. The subject matter of the meeting was relatively broad, reflecting the importance of Dictyostelium as an important model system to address a number of fundamental biological concepts. Whilst the unifying theme of researchers was the use of Dictyostelium as an experimental system, the breadth of research interests served to bring together scientists from different biological backgrounds.

This, in turn, promoted a cross disciplinary exchange of ideas and technical advances. This happened in a relaxed atmosphere where young scientists were able to contribute and question, and played a key part in making this meeting a huge success.  We are grateful to all those participants whose enthusiasm and interest made the meeting an exciting place to exchange ideas and we are grateful to our sponsors, the Biochemical Society, for making it possible.’

Catherine Pears

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