Meet the Trainer – José Eduardo González-Pastor

meet the trainer - eduardo gonzalezJosé Eduardo González-Pastor – one of the main organisers at the upcoming EMBO Practical Course: Microbial Metagenomics: A 3600 Approach (12 – 19 June 2019) – conducts his research on the mechanisms of adaptation of microorganisms to extreme conditions using metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches at the Center of Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA) in Madrid, Spain.

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

One of the greatest difficulties in the study of microbial communities is that a large percentage of the environmental microorganisms can not be cultivated. Numerous tools, called “omics” have been developed, such as metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics, which allow access and study of all microorganisms in these communities. In this course, we explain most of these methodologies from theory and practice, and how to use them to properly design experiments to answer certain scientific questions related to microbial communities.

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

The “omics” techniques allow us to better understand the functioning of microbial communities in their natural environment and not exclusively in laboratory conditions. In addition, one of the techniques, namely functional metagenomics, is very useful for recovering enzymes of interest in biotechnology from the microorganisms of the environment.

Are the methods used in this course unusual or new?

In the course we will explain some recent methods in functional metagenomics, such as the screening of metagenomic libraries using microfluidics techniques.

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

The support from the EMBL Course and Conference team in the organisation of the course is impressive. All the logistics and other matters such as the preparation of the laboratory are handled very professionally by them. We, as trainers and organisers, only need to dedicate ourselves to coordinating the scientific part, and that leaves us time to interact with the students.

What challenges is your research field facing?

The methods of massive sequencing of DNA are generating a lot of information, but we still do not understand the function of a very high percentage of genes, which encode hypothetical or unknown proteins. Even for Escherichia coli, the best studied of all organisms, half of all the proteins encoded in its genome, around 2,000, have never been experimentally characterised. Thus, we need the combination of new and classic methods to be able to understand the molecular functioning of the organisms.

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

The discovery of the structure of DNA.

What is the most interesting paper you’ve read in the past year?

GABA-modulating bacteria of the human gut microbiota. Nat Microbiol. 2019 Mar;4(3):396-403. doi: 10.1038/s41564-018-0307-3. Strandwitz P, Kim KH, Terekhova D, Liu JK, Sharma A, Levering J, McDonald D, Dietrich D, Ramadhar TR, Lekbua A, Mroue N, Liston C, Stewart EJ, Dubin MJ, Zengler K, Knight R, Gilbert JA, Clardy J, Lewis K.

Human microbiota and depression!! Microorganisms are much more relevant than we thought.

Where is science heading in your opinion?

Applied research is being favoured more than basic research, and it is a serious mistake, since much of the advances in applied science have their origin in basic research. The scientific community faces very complicated challenges in applied science without having solved many basic questions about the functioning of organisms. How can we undertake the search for new tools to fight pathogenic microorganisms if we still do not know the function of a large majority of their proteins?

What was your first ever job?

Postdoctoral position at Harvard University, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Cambridge, MA, USA.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

Architect, musician or chef, in this order.

What is the strangest or funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?

It was not so funny but strange. In the first course that I collaborated as a trainer and speaker (not as an organiser), “Metagenomics: From Bench to Data Analysis”, the two EMBO organisers had to leave in the middle of the course for personal and urgent reasons, and suddenly one of the course assistants gave me the keys of the rooms and I had to take responsibility for organising the course until the end. Possibly I did not do it badly, since the EMBO organisers decided to invite me to be also an organiser of the following editions of this course, which is now “Metagenomics: a 360º Approach”.

If you were a superhero what power would you have?

To be able to access the minds of others.

What is your bucket list for the next 12 months?

Decrease administrative tasks and complete the writing of several pending articles.

What holiday tip can you give people – e.g. a place / restaurant / attraction you have visited in the world that people should definitely make the effort to see?

To visit the Antarctic.

What is the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?

Crossing the Drake Passage (Sea of Hoces) by ship to go from Punta Arenas (Chile) to the Antarctic.

What is your favourite book?

The Little Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, by Esther Meynell

What is your favourite recipe? Please provide details!

Black rice with seafood (paella negra de marisco, in Spanish). Rice is cooked in a sauce with tomato, red and green peppers and onions, then it is added a broth made with fish, seafood remains and squid ink. During cooking, shrimps, clams, squids and green beans are added.

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One language to unite them all

Copyright: EMBL Photolab

And so it became that the whole earth was of many languages, with no common speech. As people moved to Germany, they found a hill in Heidelberg and settled there.

They used steel and glass instead of stone, and cement for mortar to build their settlement. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a campus, with a tower of DNA that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Then the Director General came down to see the campus and the tower the people were building. The Director General said, “If as one people speaking different languages they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and give them one language so they will understand each other even better.”

So the Director General gathered them there from over all the earth, and gave them the language of science and they finished building the campus and the tower. It is now called the Tower of ATC – because there people from the whole world gather to speak the universal language of science and do great things.*

We speak over 40 different languages at EMBL but we all speak the language of science. Happy International Mother Language Day (21 February)!

*The text was adapted from Genesis 11:1-8, New International Version.

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Meet the Trainer – Ashley Sanders

In spirit of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February), we are proud to launch our “Meet the Trainer” Series, in which we will profile some of the amazing trainers from the EMBL Course Programme. We begin with Dr. Ashley D. Sanders, a distinguished scientist in the Genome Biology Unit of EMBL whose research focuses on how single-cell genomes change over time and how this impacts cell behavior.

Ashley will be training at the upcoming EMBO Practical Course: Single-Cell Omics (12 – 18 May 2019) and we asked her to give us some insights and tips for the course, as well as answer some not so scientific questions.

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

Without a doubt, single-cell measurements have emerged as the most direct method for deconvoluting complex and heterogeneous samples, and for exploring how subpopulations of cells respond to experimental manipulations. This course will allow participants to learn some of the most cutting-edge technologies and gain valuable hands-on experience from leading experts in the field. I hope this will help inspire new research, discoveries and collaborations.

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

New technology equips us with new tools to explore long-standing questions in biology. Emergent single-cell omics methods are now providing us with the chance to ask how individual cells differ in terms of their DNA mutational profiles, epigenomic states and transcriptional outputs – enabling us to explore dynamic cellular relationships through a new lens. In unravelling these relationships we will better understand how diversity is established and maintained in healthy human tissues, and how aberrations in these processes can lead to disease.

Are the methods used in this course unusual or new?

The course will highlight some of the newest and most exciting methods in genomic research, including single cell bisulfite sequencing, single-cell RNA-seq and Strand-seq. Strand-seq is a novel single-cell and strand-specific sequencing method and this is the first time it will be offered in a course format.

 What is your number one tip related to the course?

Engage. Take time to interact with the other participants and the trainers. This course offers a unique opportunity to meet your colleagues in the field of single-cell biology, which can lead to new relationships and collaborations.

What challenges is your research field facing?

Single-cell genomics is expensive, noisy and complex. We need to bring down the cost of production to increase throughput and access more cells. We need to improve benchtop protocols to generate higher quality data from each cell we invest in. And we need smarter and faster bioinformatics that extract meaningful signal and integrate data layers across cells and experiments.

Where is science heading in your opinion?

We are in a single-cell omics era. Novel approaches are now available to untangle complex biological systems through multi-layered and complementary data types. By designing smart experiments that integrate across these layers, I believe we are positioned to unravel how homeostatic multicellular tissues are generated and maintained. In understanding these nuanced and cooperative inter-cell relationships, we will be in a position to deliver more holistic cell-based health care. This may involve selectively targeting rogue cells that disrupt our systems or producing functional regenerative tissues for transplants.

What was your first ever job?

Selling coffee through the Tim Hortons drive-thru in Toronto, Canada

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

Yoga instructor

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A big “Thank You” to our supporters

We would like to thank all our supporters of the 2018 EMBL Course and Conference Programme. With their help we were able to provide top-class training and keep the registration fees as low as possible allowing more people to profit from these opportunities. 86 companies sponsored a total of 25 events in Heidelberg and here is what some of them had to say about their experience:

“The audience comprised a very good mix of members from academic institutions and industry. We appreciated the rich interactions during the conference and friendly social events. Of course we were pleased to see a high interest in our activities and products and are confident we will build interesting collaborations in the future thanks to this event.” (Ectica Technologies)

“The conference program gathered a broad panel of microfluidic experts that presented the latest scientific discoveries in the field. The exhibition setting allowed me to easily interact with a broad range of participants and establish new valuable connections.” (miniFAB)

“The pre-conference workshop was very well attended and supported by the organizers, the booth location and interaction were excellent. The product fit for our portfolio of organoid culture products and tools was excellent and the organization, as always, was great, which goes a long way to creating an open and collaborative atmosphere that benefits exhibition.” (STEMCELL Technologies)

“EMBL is one of Europe’s most prominent life science institutions and as such gathers numerous eminent researchers across Europe and around the world. EMBL also covers a wide scope across the life science research allowing to target specific users. Compared to other scientific conferences, we also appreciate the good price / performance ratio of EMBL events.” (Wako Chemicals)

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Event Advent Challenge 2018

Every year we embark on a quest to encrypt our events in senseless images for our event advent competition and it was overwhelming to see that so many of our Facebook followers sent us emails with the correct answers last year. The five winners were notified yesterday and we look forward to welcoming them at one of our events this year. We thank everyone else for their time and engagement and wish them more luck in the next competition.

And for everyone who missed what it was all about, here is the artwork that got so many people having to refresh their Facebook feed repeatedly in December. For a complete list of our 2019 events, please visit our website.

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