How to get your abstract selected for a short talk

by Nicola Vegiopoulos, EMBL Alumna, marketing expert and pianist

So, you’ve registered for a conference – be it virtual or onsite – and you reeeeeally want to present your work? It’s got everything going for it – it’s a hot topic and you have some great results to show. There’s just one little problem – you haven’t made a name for yourself in the field yet, so of course you haven’t been invited as a speaker. Never fear! There are some short talk speaking slots available. But how are you going to make sure that the abstract you submit is selected for a short talk?

Follow these steps to give yourself an edge over the others, and increase the chances of your abstract being selected to present your work.

  1. Get to the point – quickly

Generally you will have a word limit for your abstract. Don’t waste valuable words making your abstract flowery – enter straight into the subject, your problem or research question. Scientific organisers have to read a lot of abstracts, so make sure you put the most important information at the beginning.

  1. Make sure you answer 4 important questions

– What problem are you addressing and why is it important?
– What methods are you using to research the problem?
– What data have you been able to produce or process?
– What (preliminary) findings will you be able to discuss?

  1. Make it clear why your work is important

Be sure to clearly emphasise the approach and importance of your findings and theorisation. Make a concise statement that outlines the purpose, context, approach and significance of your work.

  1. Clarity, clarity, clarity!

Make sure you give strong conclusions and clear outcomes. Don’t leave anything open to misinterpretation, and make it clear if the work is finished, or at least nearly finished.

  1. Make it relevant to the research field

Outline how your research has made steps forward in the field, and what impact it will have.

  1. Make it relevant to the conference topic

Take a look at the conference programme and relate your work to areas of interest covered at the conference, as well as session titles. Have an idea of which session your short talk could fit into.

  1. Avoid dull titles

Make sure the title is catchy and informative – it will be the first thing that anyone reading your abstract will see, and will also be the topic of your short talk should you be successful in your goal.

  1. Find the balance

It’s not the easiest thing to do, but try to bring across enthusiasm for the topic across whilst remaining professional. This is one of the hardest things to do, so take your time with it and don’t try to do it at the last minute.

  1. Get feedback before submitting

Ask others to read and review your abstract before submitting, for example your colleagues or PI. They can provide you with valuable feedback which you should take on board!

  1. Follow the guidelines

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people contact us to ask if they can submit their work after the deadline. Late submissions won’t get considered for a short talk, and there is a chance that they will not be accepted at all. In addition, stick to the word limit, and make sure you include all authors and co-authors in the correct format.

So, to sum it up, aim for precision, linearity of thought, and succinctness, and you‘re in with a good chance of getting selected for a short talk at your next conference.

Original video by EMBL Photolab and EMBL Events, EMBL Heidelberg

Best short talk winners at New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology

The popular symposium “New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology” took place virtually this year. 598 people from across the globe joined from their own time zone. Two presenters impressed the crowd with their short talks, even though the local time for one of them was 4.50 am (that doesn’t count as morning yet, does it?).

Jordi van Gestel and Nitzan Tal were the well-deserved winners. Read about their research below.

Short-range quorum sensing controls horizontal gene transfer at micron scale in bacterial communities

Jordi van Gestel, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Presenter: Jordi van Gestel, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA

Introduction: I am a Postdoc in the laboratory of Carol Gross at UCSF. Being trained as an evolutionary biologist, I was introduced to the fascinating world of microbiology during my PhD and have been working at the interface of both fields ever since. My research focuses on the organisation and evolution of bacterial cell collectives.

Abstract
Inside bacterial communities, cells often communicate through the release and detection of small diffusible molecules, a process termed quorum-sensing.

In general, signal molecules are thought to broadly diffuse in space; yet, paradoxically, cells often employ quorum-sensing to regulate traits that strictly depend on the local community composition, such as conjugative transfer. This raises the question if and how nearby cells in the community can be detected.

Here, we employ a microfluidic platform to determine how diverse quorum-sensing systems, differing in their regulatory design, impact the range of communication. While some systems indeed support long-range communication, we show that other systems support a novel form of highly localized communication.

In these systems, signal molecules propagate no more than a few microns away from signalling cells, due to the irreversible uptake of these signal molecules from the environment. This enables cells to accurately detect micron scale changes in the community composition and engage in local cell-to-cell communication.

Intriguingly, several mobile genetic elements, including conjugative elements and phages, employ short-range communication to specifically assess the fraction of susceptible host cells in their vicinity and adaptively trigger horizontal gene transfer in response. Our results underscore the complex spatial biology of bacteria, where cells both communicate and interact at widely different spatial scales.

Antiviral defense via nucleotide depletion in bacteria

Nitzan Tal, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Presenter: Nitzan Tal, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Introduction: I am a PhD student in the lab of Professor Rotem Sorek at the Weizmann Institute of Science. For the past few years I’ve been studying the interactions between bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages), and how both adapt to ever changing conditions in order to survive. My research focuses on identifying novel anti-viral defense systems and on understanding the extremely diverse arsenal of microbial immunity.

Abstract

DNA viruses and retroviruses need to consume large quantities of deoxynucleotides (dNTPs) when replicating within infected cells. The human antiviral factor SAMHD1 takes advantage of this vulnerability in the viral life cycle, and inhibits viral replication by degrading dNTPs into their constituent deoxynucleosides and inorganic phosphate.

In this study, we report that bacteria employ a similar strategy to defend against phage infection. We found a family of defensive dCTP deaminase proteins that, in response to phage infection, convert dCTP into deoxy-uracil nucleotides. A second family of phage resistance genes encode dGTPase enzymes, which degrade dGTP into phosphate-free deoxy-guanosine (dG) and are distant homologs of the human SAMHD1.

Our results show that the defensive proteins completely eliminate the specific deoxynucleotide (either dCTP or dGTP) from the nucleotide pool during phage infection, thus starving the phage of an essential DNA building block and halting its replication. Our study demonstrates that manipulation of the deoxynucleotide pool is a potent antiviral strategy shared by both prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

For tips and tricks on how to give a good scientific talk, watch this video

From an online interview to running my first virtual course

Iva Gavran joined the EMBL Course and Conference Office in December 2020.

We asked Iva Gavran, who recently joined the team as a Course and Conference Officer, to give us her newcomer’s insights about the very first virtual course she organised (EMBO Practical Course: Drosophila Genetics and Genomics, 11 – 15 January 2021), held in the EMBL virtual learning platform – eCampus.

It was December 2020 and after a 5-day quarantine and a PCR test I had started working at EMBL. It was just one month before the EMBO Practical Course: Drosophila Genetics and Genomic was scheduled to take place. A virtual course, of course.

In fact, my job interview at EMBL was held virtually as well and I had seen the EMBL ATC building and the city itself only in pictures prior to relocating to Heidelberg (and oh, both are stunning).

A lot of things for the course were pretty much arranged by then, but I was still baffled about how one could organise a virtual practical course. The answer may well lie in the EMBL Advanced Training Centre building’s architecture that resembles the DNA’s double helix and reminds us that adaptation is the key. We have fully adapted the face-to-face training’s structure and interaction to a new, online format.

Virtual platform

What really helps is that there is a whole learning platform dedicated to our courses, called eCampus. A clean slate at first, it was soon populated with all kinds of learning materials, videos, articles and other input sent by the speakers and trainers.

The EMBL virtual learning management platform eCampus was launched in 2020 and is used as a collaboration and networking tool by the virtual course participants.

Course materials and programme

I would say there are three main pillars of eCampus: the pre-course materials, the interaction options and the daily programme. The pre-course materials are a proper little treasure trove of knowledge with pre-recorded videos, quizzes, articles and assignments. If you have any questions, just go straight to the Forum and ask away, or chat with another participant or trainer. The programme is always up-to-date with all the links you need and it also has a nice feature where you can adapt it to your time zone. If a live session has some pre-course materials that need to be watched or read, it will be hyperlinked in the programme or the material will be added below, which is pretty cool and very convenient.

Networking

Networking is a crucial part of every event, whether it’s a conference or a course, but it is hard to replicate in a virtual environment. I remember how it was for me to virtually meet my colleagues, and trust me, it’s definitely odd, but somehow at the same time it also felt normal. After all, we share the same work experience and it’s the same when attending a course. Well, not exactly the same if you are a work-from-home parent, but EMBL has amazing childcare grants to help you with that.

The Drosophila course started off on a Monday with an ice breaker event, where all participants shared a few slides to introduce themselves, their hobbies and their career path. It was a full display of lockdown life with cooking, baking and Netflix all over the slides (mine included). There were also networking activities like speed networking, student presentations, a discussion panel and a quiz which fostered interactions between participants and trainers and helped create a really nice group dynamic.

Course modules and learning process

The course was designed in a way that required some pre-course work.  The platform contained a lot of pre-course materials, papers and videos which the participants needed to go through before attending the full 5-day course with about 4-5 course hours per day.

I remember some participants were a bit unsure if they needed to watch them before the course. The idea (and I really liked this) was that participants watch the pre-recorded videos in advance, so that when the speakers and trainers joined live during the course, participants could ask as many questions as possible and thus learned even more from the discussion. This was actually the true benefit of the virtual course – a more thorough discussion and full understanding of the topic compared to the standard format of live lectures followed by 5 min of Q&As. And judging by the participants’ feedback, this format was quite a success.

Some of the interactive sessions of the course were designed in a similar way. For example, participants were assigned tasks that they had to complete before the course. During the course, they received feedback, could ask questions and go over the rest of the tasks with the trainers. To let this all sink in properly and to give them a chance to reflect on what they had learned, participants were able to access all the materials and live recordings for two weeks after the course. As some pointed out, this was amazing for a virtual event and I agree completely.

For me, the best part of the Drosophila course was watching the lively interactions and discussions between participants and trainers, and especially among participants during their presentations of their current research. I found it inspiring and rewarding to see their curiosity and ideas. There it was, 20 people sitting in their homes in different parts of the world, talking about one tiny fly with top experts in the field. How amazing is that!

Events Iva is organising or co-organising:

EMBL Course: Advanced Fluorescence Imaging Techniques, 23 – 27 August 2021

EMBL Course: Gene Expression at Spatial Resolution, 30 Aug – 2 Sep 2021.

EMBO | EMBL Symposium: Seeing is Believing – Imaging the Molecular Processes of Life, 5 – 8 Oct 2021.

EMBL Science and Society Conference: One Health: Integrating Human, Animal and Environmental Health, 3 Dec 2021.

Take a sneak peek at EMBL’s courses and conferences for 2022

Download our 2022 preview poster

Following a year and a half of virtual events, many of you are probably looking forward to attending in-person courses and conferences. So are we! Based on the current trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are looking brighter for 2022 and we are making plans to return to providing you with onsite training and opportunities to meet and connect with each other as early in the year as possible. Naturally, we’ll have back-up plans in place should coronavirus pandemic disruption strike again, but for now most of our events next year are planned to take place face-to-face.

Our 2022 Course and Conference Programme is now live and features a large variety of exciting new scientific topics. Here are some of the highlights of the programme.

Download our 2022 poster here!
To see the full list of upcoming events, visit our events website.

Conferences

We begin the year with a virtual talent search conference that will allow the next generation of infection biologists to present their work and expertise to EMBL and a large number of participating institutes. This new format is especially interesting for postdoctoral fellows and young researchers working in infection biology.

In April, a symposium will shed light on the biological relationship between microbial infections and human cancer. While for many tumour viruses the causality is firmly established, the biological links for bacterial infections are still under research. This symposium will provide a stimulating platform for young scientists and students to present their research, network and develop further this new interdisciplinary field.

Another exciting and innovative topic will be addressed in “Phenotypic Plasticity Across Scales”, a meeting that focuses on the ability of organisms to adapt their form, physiology or behaviour to environmental cues and changes. The conference will highlight molecular mechanisms underlying plasticity and links to the environment. The meeting will also address the role of plasticity in driving evolutionary novelty and biological diversity.

Courses

In 2022 EMBL will also offer hands-on practical courses on the latest laboratory and computational technologies. Microscopy image analysis has become a key technology in research. The advanced EMBL virtual course on “Deep learning for Image Analysis” will teach the utilisation of neural networks to answer crucial biological questions.

Two courses will present methods and tools on how to integrate multi-omics data sets. The EMBL Course “Analysis and Integration of Transcriptome and Proteome Data” will teach wet-lab scientists the basics in data analysis and integration, while the advanced EMBO Practical Course on “Integrative Analysis of Multi-Omics Data” will equip computational scientists with state-of-the-art integration tools like multi-omics factor analysis.

Many of our hands-on practical courses address complete workflows from sample collection, through wet-lab experiments to computational data analysis. One of them is the EMBO Practical Course “Methods for Analysis of circRNAs: From Discovery to Function”. This course will teach cutting-edge methods to identify and study this class of non-coding RNAs.

On-demand training

Our open access bioinformatics training offerings are more popular than ever. Here you also have the option to learn at your own pace with our online tutorials and webinars to make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest scientific techniques!

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the latest news from the EMBL Course and Conference Office, please sign up to our mailing list. You can also follow us on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn or Facebook.

 

Best poster awards – BioMalPar XVII

This year,  the BioMalPar conference took place for the 17th time, but the second time virtually. Three poster presenters stunned their peers with their visually attractive digital posters, presentations and research insights. Out of 90 posters, they received the best poster award by popular vote. Meet the winners!

Sex-specific genetic screens identify hundreds of Plasmodium fertility genes essential for the transmission of malaria parasites

Claire Sayers, Umea University, Sweden

Abstract

Sexual reproduction of malaria parasites is essential for their transmission by mosquitoes. Biological processes required for Plasmodium fertility include the formation of gametocytes, their transformation into gametes in response to signals from the mosquito, fertilisation in the bloodmeal, meiosis, and the formation of an invasive ookinete. Stage-specific gene expression data suggest that hundreds of parasite genes are uniquely required for sexual reproduction, but previous gene knockout studies have merely scratched the surface of this important aspect of parasite biology. We have mutagenised P. berghei lines that make only fertile male or only fertile female gametocytes, with barcoded PlasmoGEM vectors to screen >1200 targetable genes for sex-specific phenotypes. Our screens identify hundreds of genes with sex-specific roles. The data recapitulate existing knowledge of Plasmodium fertility and assign functions to previously unannotated genes. For the first time, we are gaining an unbiased picture of the molecular mechanisms of Plasmodium fertility at genome-scale, which will lead to a deeper understanding of this novel biology that could serve as targets for transmission blocking drugs or vaccines.

View Claire Sayers’ poster

ABCI3 confers pleiotropic drug resistance to antimalarial compounds

Emma Carpenter, Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK

Abstract

Understanding the mechanisms available to the malaria parasite for acquiring multidrug resistance will be important for predicting which genes may become important for clinical resistance in the future.
ABC transporters are an important protein family with roles in drug resistance across a variety of organisms, and mutations in PfMDR1 modulate sensitivity to multiple antimalarials. Several other ABC transporters are encoded in the Plasmodium genome, and we have identified mutations in ABCI3 that confer resistance to several experimental antimalarial compounds.
Using in vitro drug selection regimes with a set of four chemically related compounds (SY4, 10, 11, 13), we isolated 12 drug resistant lines that were subjected to whole genome sequencing. All contained either single nucleotide variants (SNVs) or copy number amplifications of abci3. The point mutations were located in or near predicted transmembrane domains, consistent with a role in modifying the substrate specificity of the transporter, and testing of these lines against other compounds chemically-unrelated to the SY series identified a subset to which sensitivity is also affected.

In addition, natural variants of ABCI3 are observed at or near to these putative resistance SNVs, and preliminary evidence indicates differing sensitivities to the SY compounds among field isolates and common lab strains that may be driven by variation in ABCI3.

This work suggests abci3 should be among the genes monitored for changes in prevalence in longitudinal sampling of field isolates.

View  Emma Carpenters’ Poster

Characterization of a new malaria vaccine candidate against Plasmodium vivax using genetically modified rodent malaria parasites

Diana Moita, Instituto de Medicina Molecular João Lobo Antunes, Portugal

Abstract

Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, is the most prevalent parasitic infection worldwide. Despite considerable efforts, there is still no effective vaccine against human-infective Plasmodium parasites, of which P. falciparum (Pf) and P. vivax (Pv) are the clinically most significant. Whole-sporozoite (Wsp) vaccines, which induce efficient immune responses against the pre-erythrocytic (PE) stages of Plasmodium parasites, are among the most promising immunization strategies so far. Although most malaria vaccine research has focused on Pf infection, Pv continues to be the most widespread of the human-infective Plasmodium species, imposing significant health and economic burdens on affected countries. Importantly, Pv can originate dormant parasitic liver forms – hypnozoites – which may cause malaria relapses long after mosquito transmission. Recently, our lab developed a new Wsp based on the use of transgenic rodent P. berghei (Pb) parasites as a platform to deliver immunogens of human-infective Plasmodium parasites. Since our in silico studies predict that >60% of CD8+ T cell epitopes encoded in both the Pv and Pb proteomes are shared between these two parasites, we generated a new genetically modified Pb expressing the highly immunogenic circumsporozoite (CS) protein from Pv (PvCS), in addition to its endogenous CS, Pb(PvCS@UIS4), to be used as a vaccine candidate against Pv malaria. Our immunofluorescence microscopy studies confirmed that both the endogenous PbCS and the inserted PvCS are expressed during the PE stages of this transgenic parasite, and that its infectivity is similar to that of its wild-type (WT) counterpart. Specifically, the ability of Pb(PvCS@UIS4) to infect Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, as measured by the number of oocysts or sporozoites formed, as well as its ability to infect and develop normally in mouse hepatocytes and red blood cells showed no significant differences from those observed for WT parasites. Subsequent studies showed that mice immunization with Pb(PvCS@UIS4) elicits the production of anti-PvCS antibodies that efficiently recognize and bind to Pv sporozoites. Considering the lack of efficient strategies to tackle Pv, this study represents a crucial step on the development of a new Wsp vaccine candidate against this parasite.

View Diana Moita’s poster