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Conference report

Just back from possibly the best conference ever, a Keystone meeting with the intriguing title “Membranes in Motion”.

What made it so fantastic?

I’m not sure I can fully answer this question. Undoubtedly it was the science, the organizers of this conference, Harvey McMahon and Jodi Nunari have fabulous scientific taste, and the talks and sessions were just amazing. Just a few of the highlights; Rob Parton gave a brilliant talk linking caveolinopathies to molecular insights, Pietro DeCamilli giving a master-class in how to relate cellular physiology to molecular mechanism, Bruno Antonny presenting a new model for the role of OSBP in a simple, yet complex (not elaborate) model for vectorial transport, Peter Novick showcasing his discovery of a novel membrane protein that regulates junctions in the tubular ER.

Another aspect that made this conference so wonderful was the range of material included, it was diverse, but the topics were synergistic, taking in various modes of endocytosis, cell fusion, protein folding, autophagy, exocytosis and mitochondrial membrane function. Overall, this gave an underlying intellectual coherence to the meeting making it a fantastic and concentrated exposure to some of the most interesting experimentation and thinking taking place in this area. The quality of the discussions and conversations were also excellent, the atmosphere was very open and friendly which (in my experience), really stimulates dialogue.

This conference also was fun in that it featured a significant number of speakers at the graduate and post-doctoral level. The quality of talks from these early-career individuals was outstanding. A graduate student from the Drubin lab, Aaron Cheng, had applied a method of using genome editing in embryonic stem cells to address fundamental questions in cell biology. Brooke Gardner from Peter Walter’s lab is testing the peptides binding to activated Ire1. Interestingly, both these students are graduates of small liberal arts colleges which supports the thesis that these colleges provide the best pipeline for educating scientists and engineers.

For myself, I found a particularly significant aspect of the conference to be the three talks from Oliver Daumke, Joshua Chappie and Marijn Ford discussing the structures of dynamin. Having these three parallel talks was such an interesting experience because each talk bought the molecule alive from a different perspective. I really wish I had a means of recording these talks and revisiting them. I felt I was present at a moment in cell biology history, of a major milestone being reached with a concomitant flowering of new understanding.

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