BioMalPar’s most loyal friends

Meet Prof. Peter Preiser and Dr. Stefan Rahlfs, two of BioMalPar’s most loyal participants, who have not missed a conference since 2009 and 2010 respectively. They recount their experience from previous events of the series and share with us their expectations of the upcoming conference.

How has the conference developed over the years in your opinion and what makes you come back every year?

PP: The BioMalPar conference is unique in that it is one if not the only annual conference that focuses on the molecular and cellular aspects of the malaria parasite. It therefore has always represented an ideal meeting to catch up with the latest developments in the field. Due to its focus on giving PhD students a chance to present their work the meeting always had a “new” feel to it which I particularly appreciated.

SR: The conference has always drawn participants from all over the world, and presented interesting talks by both experienced and young researchers. However, getting to the conference venue used to be much more difficult and the early events took place in office rooms and a tent (it was pretty hot in there!). But things have changed significantly since then. Now there is a new parking garage, a new conference centre, which I like very much – light, modern, scientific.  The best part is the “helix” where you have to find your way walking on a base pair bridge .

PP: Clearly the conference has changed over time – this was partly due to the end of the EU funded BioMalPar programme and therefore the discontinuation of the PhD programme, but still it retained its focus on giving young researchers an opportunity to present their work. Today the meeting is a nice balance between young and more established researchers, which means there are the hot-off-the-press type presentations representing the work of a single researcher along with the more comprehensive research achieved through a multi-team effort.

SR: The quality of the talks remains impressive with a good mixture of topics. There is always a keynote lecture followed by short talks. Workshops and flash talks are now included and I have learned a lot about different people especially the ones receiving the Lifetime achievement award.

PP: The establishment of the Lifetime achievement award was something that I felt was particularly important as it provided many of the young researchers attending the meeting a perspective of the immense contributions the previous, slightly older generation had made to the field.

What’s the best memory you have of a BioMalPar conference?

PP: For me it has always been the relaxed attitude of the meeting and the opportunity to discuss science over a beer at the posters or outside (weather permitting) on a mild spring evening. Many fantastic ideas were generated through these discussions.

SR: The things that always stay in my mind are the fantastic venue, attractive program, nice age-mixture of people and the friendly atmosphere. I always go home with respect for others’ work but also with new ideas for my own research. At one of the BMP conferences I personally met Prof. Hagai Ginsburgh, and once he combined his stay in Germany with a trip to our Giessen-University for some days. This was very impressive and constructive at the same time.

In your opinion, what challenges is malaria research facing and how does coming to BioMalPar address these problems?

PP: I think the effort to control and eliminate malaria has made significant progress and we are now getting to a critical phase in the global effort. It is now important to ensure that efforts to control the disease are not slackened and that funders continue to support this important health initiative. From a research perspective we still have key challenges in terms of drug resistance and the lack of an efficient vaccine, not to mention the issue of P. vivax. It is particularly in these areas where BioMalPar can stimulate the right discussions and interactions that will eventually lead to significant benefits in controlling the disease.

SR: It is still a disease occurring in poor countries and resistance is always a problem. Although bed nets help a lot and a vaccine is available (which is not very effective, but the best mankind has been able to provide so far), research must go on. And in rural areas infrastructure for distribution of newly developed drugs or vaccines needs to be installed. For research there is a gap between industry (monetary research) and universities (basic research), which is due to their different settings.

Looking at the programme of this year’s conference, what do you think will be the highlight and what would you like to see in the next edition in 2020?

PP: This is hard to say as based on the titles there appear to be many new and exciting topics on the programme. I am quite intrigued about the work going on with the mosquito vector and possible ways a better understanding in this area may provide us with better tools for intervention. I am also excited about the use of stem cells to study malaria parasites, as this technology would significantly help me to address some of the questions I am interested in.

I think one of the key things that I would like to see develop more in the future is a better link between the basic research presented at the BioMalPar conference and how this could be utilised in a more clinically relevant context. For example, how does our understanding of malaria immunology help in developing a better vaccine or how do we use the vast amounts of genomic data more effectively for the discovery of new drugs, new vaccine targets or even better diagnostic markers. Some of this is already happening but a lot more can be done.

Prof. Preiser, you will present a short talk titled “Comparative mapping of Plasmodium proteomes provides new insights into erythrocyte remodelling”.  What can participants expect to learn from your talk?

I have always wondered about how the malaria parasites changes its host cell. In particular, I was intrigued about the apparent differences that different malaria parasite species have developed in modifying the same type of host cell. However, most of our knowledge on this is based on the study of a single parasite species P. falciparum. My lab has therefore tried to develop new approaches to study the differences the different plasmodium species have developed by using human, simian and rodent malaria parasite species and identify all the different proteins that the parasite exports into the host cell. This approach has given us some very surprising results that I will talk about during the meeting.

Dr. Rahlfs, you will present a poster titled “Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase 6-phosphogluconolactonase: characterization of the Plasmodium vivax enzyme and inhibitor studies”.  Can you give us a short preview of your poster?

As a member of the “Becker-lab” in Giessen we are focusing on redox metabolism as drug target and on redox regulations in general and under stress. A number of gene knockouts of our group but also others mostly do not have big impact (due to redundancy), but the importance of the Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase 6-phosphogluconolactonase (GluPho) in P. falciparum has been demonstrated by a lethal phenotype. Now we would like to expand this knowledge also on P. vivax. We cloned P. vivax glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (PvG6PD), the C-terminal and NADPH-producing part of PvGluPho, recombinantly produced it in Escherichia coli, purified and characterised the enzyme. IC50 values of several compounds were determined on P. vivax G6PD, inhibitors that had been previously characterised on PfGluPho.

 

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Meet the Trainer – Andrew Filby

Meet Dr. Andrew Filby, Director of the Flow Cytometry Core Facility at Newcastle University, which supports cutting-edge research through the provision of a comprehensive cytomics resource to both internal and external research groups, operating at the forefront of cytometric applications and method-focused research. Andrew Filby is one of the organisers of the EMBO Practical Course: The Fundamentals of High-End Cell Sorting (11 – 15 November 2019).

What is the greatest benefit of the course for the scientific community?

The ability to physically separate (sort) cells of a particular type or subtype is fundamental in so many biological questions. Teaching and empowering researchers how to do this well is very important.

What could the techniques in this course be used for in the bigger picture?

Cell sorting can be used for so many different reasons, ranging from basic discovery research right through to clinical trials and cell therapies.

Are the methods used in this course unusual or new?

Cell sorting has been around since the 1960s and the principles remain quite stable. However, in this course we teach students the practical as well as the theoretical aspects. The course is run by experts in the field and in a “real world” environment where attendees will be trained in two functioning flow cytometry/cell sorting core facilities.

In comparison to other training environments, what do you enjoy most about teaching at EMBL?

Everything about EMBL is set up for delivering excellent training in biological sciences and in particular the practical, hands-on elements. The training labs are amazing spaces and looked after very well. The canteen is also a highlight!

What is your number one tip related to the course?

Roll your sleeves up and get involved. Ask questions and interact with your trainers as much as possible.

What is your research focus, in 15 words or less?

I want to measure everything about every cell in the body!

What challenges is your research field facing?

The data we generate now is very complex. We have thousands of measurements on millions of cells, sometimes with image and spatial information too. The informatics skills and solutions needed can be immense.

What, in your opinion, is the most crucial scientific discovery of the past 100 years?

The invention of the cell sorter!

If you were a superhero what power would you have?

I would like to shrink myself so that I could travel around the human body and see the cells and processes for myself.

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5 tips to drive more traffic to your exhibition booth

 

Sponsoring and exhibiting at events is still one of the major ways for companies to showcase their products and technology to relevant audiences. Companies spend a lot of time choosing the events they go to every year, but once they decide comes the big question – “How do we stand out from the crowd?”

There are various articles and ideas out there on how to effectively drive traffic to your booth, but from what we have seen, the methods you choose largely depend on the size of the audience, the competition onsite and the creativity of your booth personnel.

Here are 5 tips that have proven effective for life science conferences of 100-450 participants.

  1. Forget the flyers!

People have not flown thousands of kilometers to take your flyer back home. Companies love to produce promotional flyers that don’t say much and are destined to land in the bin. Rather, bring free samples and loads of free goodies. If you are marketing an instrument, bring it onsite and offer free demos.

  1. Bring in some colour!

In a previous post, we put together the logos of all of our supporters from last year, and one thing we noticed was that the predominant colour of choice for most of the companies was blue. Although you may not be able to change the corporate colours of your company, you could try to bring some bright colours to your booth – e.g. goodies in rainbow colours. You would be surprised what the effect of such a small thing would be.

  1. Spark joy!

When at a conference, people are usually suffering from jet lag, sleep deprivation and dehydration. And while you cannot make all of this go away, offering a good cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or ice cream can make you the hero of the day.

  1. Unleash your creativity!

When choosing your goodies, try to think outside of the box. People don’t need another pen or notepad. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think what you would like to keep as a giveaway. If you have to go with a standard giveaway, then at least try to integrate more than one function in it, e.g. I still carry around a pen/screwdriver I got at a conference 10 years ago and have since used it on many occasions. You may also want to consider offering some giveaways for children, such as colouring books, stuffed toys (e.g. shaped as bacteria or cells) or games.

Another great way to engage your audience is to offer interactive activities at your booth, such as short fun games, puzzles, quizzes, fun facts about your products, or virtual reality glasses.

  1. Be an active participant!

Try to attend as many lectures as possible during the conference. The scientific lectures will not only bring you up-to-date to the latest research in the field, but will also help you put your company in the context of this research when talking to participants onsite.

Don’t forget the poster sessions. By understanding the research of your potential customers you can more readily identify their needs and bring suitable solutions to their attention.

Last but not least, social events are always a great platform to meet people in a more informal atmosphere and break the ice.

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Meet the Trainer – Toby Hodges

PHOTO: Toby Hodges

Today we meet Toby Hodges from EMBL Heidelberg, who is an organiser and trainer at the upcoming EMBL Course: Computing Skills for Reproducible Research: Software Carpentry (16 – 18 October 2019). At EMBL, Toby supports EMBL’s bioinformaticians, providing training, advice, community building events and resources for computational science.

What is the greatest benefit of the course for the scientific community?

Computational research skills have never been in greater demand, particularly in the biological sciences. To meet this demand, many researchers must learn programming, command line computing, and other techniques required for data analysis. This Software Carpentry course provides a solid foundation for these skills, teaching researchers good practices in software and analysis pipeline development. The skills and experience that researchers gain by participating in the course will promote high-quality, efficient, and reproducible computational science.

What could the techniques in this course be used for in the bigger picture?

Almost anything! Command line computing, programming, and the other skills taught in the course are becoming vital in most areas of biology but are also widely applicable in a lot of other sectors and career paths – web design, journalism, politics, you name it! Of course, we hope that every researcher who attends our workshops will go on to a long and wildly successful research career but, should they choose to go in a different direction, we’re sure that the skills taught here will still prove beneficial.

Are the methods used in this course unusual or new?

New? Certainly not – most of the tools and techniques taught in our course have existed for many years already. What’s unusual, though, is for biologists and bioinformaticians to have the understanding of good practices in software development and workflow management that the workshop provides. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of poorly-documented and poorly-written scientific software out there. Once they’ve attended our workshop, researchers will be better able to ensure that the programs and pipelines that they create are reproducible and reusable.

In comparison to other training environments, what do you enjoy most about teaching at EMBL?

It’s helpful for us to teach in a relatively informal environment. We find that, when course participants are relaxed, it creates a positive environment in which they can learn. We’re also privileged to have access to such great teaching facilities and to have excellent support from our colleagues in EMBL’s Course and Conference Office, who make it very easy for us to teach these courses.

What is your number one tip related to the course?

Make the most of it, both as an opportunity to learn from the trainers and as a chance to develop your network. The coffee and lunch breaks are a great chance to get to know your fellow course-mates, to share ideas and experiences, and to learn more about everyone else’s journey to this point.

What challenges is your research field facing?

It’s becoming increasingly important to think about how we manage our research data. The volume of data produced in a typical experiment has become enormous in recent years and we’re scrambling to catch up. It’s vital that our research data is well-annotated and retrievable so that others can re-use it and reproduce our results in the future, but ensuring this can be challenging. The other major challenge to my work is the sheer volume of different research techniques, tools, and data formats being used in modern biology. Bioinformatics has such a diverse ecosystem of tools and file formats, which is developing at a breathtaking pace. It can be difficult to stay up-to-date.

Where is science heading in your opinion?

The future of biological research will increasingly involve the integration of many different types and formats of data into a single experiment or study. We already see this in multi-omics studies and the increasing combination of imaging and single-cell sequencing techniques and I expect the trend to continue towards these integrated approaches.

What was your first ever job?

Stacking shelves in a supermarket.

If you were a superhero what power would you have?

If I could choose: the ability to never make a typo. If I don’t get to choose then, sadly, it would probably be deafeningly loud voice.

 What is your bucket list for the next 12 months?

After a very hectic few years, my main target for 2019 is to get better at saying “no” to things.

What is your favourite recipe?

Michael Chu’s Classic Tiramisu: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/recipe/60/The-Classic-Tiramisu-original-recipe

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The lonely yeast cell

We need your help to name Buddy’s bud! Head to our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages and write your name suggestions in the comments. EMBL Events will choose the best name on 8th April 🙂

#NameBuddysBud 

Once upon a time there lived a yeast cell called Buddy
Who was loved and cared for by everybody
He lived in a palace of glass and steel
Right on top of a big green hill.

He loved to dress up, and play and travel
And was always ready for a nice warm cuddle.
But one thing bothered Buddy at night
When the palace staff all left the site.

He felt alone and scared in the dark
And couldn’t wait for the day’s first spark.
He was a cutie, slightly chubby
Yellow, green and purple, soft and fluffy.

He visited places all the time,
Even once pursued a crater climb.
He longed for someone just like him,
But thought the chances were quite slim.

As time passed by, the thought remained,
But no solution came to his lonely brain.
The pressure soon became too much
He grew so round he could hardly budge!

Soon he couldn’t walk or move,
So he just lay down, stuck in the groove.
Early next morning, he yawned and groaned
And suddenly his other side moaned.

There were four limbs, a belly and head,
That smiled at him and mischievously said:
“Good morning, how are you today?
What a wonderful place you have to play”

And suddenly Buddy understood,
His weight, his size, his changing mood.
He had his longed-for friend at last!
“But what shall I call him?” Buddy asks…

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