A journey through Germany: limbs, modelling and a bunch of Barcelonan scientists

EMBL Barcelona is now up and running for more than a year and, believe it or not, despite these first busy months of transition we’ve also managed to continue doing science. To prove that, is there a better opportunity than to present our work at a conference? Well actually, yes; to decide to do it in two consecutive meetings!

Different conferences and workshops attract different members of EMBL Barcelona according to specific topics during the year. However, last March, two conferences seemed to be specifically tailored for the whole Barcelona unit, and in particular for James Sharpe’s group (which also includes myself). So, I packed my suitcase, and joined the majority of the group for a scientific trip.

First stop Dresden, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, to attend the inaugural workshop on “Image-based Modelling and Simulation of Morphogenesis” organised by Kyle I. S. Harrington (University of Idaho, Moscow, ID USA) and Ivo F. Sbalzarini (Centre for Systems Biology Dresden, Germany).

I left a sunny and vernal Barcelona and arrived to a rainy and cold Dresden on March 12th for this four-day meeting. Thankfully, the warm welcome by the organisers and exciting science made up for the weather.  Indeed, some of the leading minds from different fields and expertise gathered in the valley of the River Elbe to discuss how computer modelling and bio-image analysis can improve our understanding of biological morphogenesis.

EMBL Barcelona was probably one of the major contributors, since James Sharpe was one of the keynote speakers and three members of the lab were selected to give a presentation: M. Marin-Riera, A. Matyjaszkiewicz and myself.

James Sharpe presented an overview on how we combine theoretical and experimental work to mechanistically explain limb bud morphogenesis in mice. Regarding myself, I had the opportunity to show in more detail one piece of the puzzle talking about some of the latest results of my current project: creating an evolution in space and time of a mouse limb bud using 3D volumetric images.

Not much time to rest and visit the beautiful Dresden at the end of the conference, since we had just one day to catch a train heading south to our next destination: Heidelberg, where other members of James Sharpe’s and Miki Ebisuya’s group were already waiting for us. We crossed all of Germany to be ready on March 17th to take part in the EMBO-EMBL symposium: “Synthetic Morphogenesis: From Gene Circuits to Tissue Architecture” in EMBL headquarters.

This meeting, organised by Stefano de Renzis (EMBL Heidelberg), Miki Ebisuia (EMBL Barcelona), Wendell Lim (University of California, San Francisco and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA) and James Sharpe (EMBL Barcelona), was particularly important not only for the eminent speakers, but also because this was the first time that we were, as a group, visiting EMBL’s main site since the site in Barcelona was born.

The symposium focused on “Synthetic Morphogenesis”, a novel field that brings together different scientific communities from developmental biologists to chemists and material scientists. This new area aims to understand how cells/tissues/organs can be built de novo starting from isolated components. Being part of the discussion of a new field is nothing short of exciting.

Attending two conferences in a row was quite intense but it ended in new ideas, suggestions and collaborations that will certainly improve my current research. Moreover, in addition to discussing and contributing to groundbreaking science with experts from all over the world, there is always a chance to meet old friends, find new ones and strengthen the bond with colleagues. Not many jobs allow these privileges, and that is why I enjoy being a scientist.

Giovanni Dalmasso

Postdoctoral Fellow (James Sharpe’s group)