Meet the Trainer – Varsha Kale

PHOTO: Varsha Kale

Meet Varsha Kale, a Bioinformatician in the Finn team: Microbiome Informatics at EMBL-EBI and one of the trainers at the EMBL Course: Metagenomics Bioinformatics (08 – 12 November 2021).

We virtually sat down with Varsha and quizzed her on where she thinks the field of Metagenomics is heading in the future; and some inside information on what you can expect from the course.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

Using metagenomics to characterise the chicken and salmon gut microbiome and its functions.

I enjoyed learning about bacteria and how they thrived in various environments. This opened a world of different microbes from symbiotic, commensal to pathogenic and highly resistant. It was exciting! When working in a lab, we would receive pre-analysed sequencing data from bioinformaticians. My mentors at the time were supportive to indulge my curiosity as to how the analysis was performed and hence I chose to study bioinformatics. At EMBL-EBI I have the opportunity to learn about new tools and analysis methods frequently.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

The continued expansion of novel genomes and annotations deposited in public archives will give us more and deeper insight into some elusive environments. Additionally, as statistical modelling becomes more popular, many of the methods we use for annotation are adopting machine learning techniques. The challenges will be the integration of different data types, judging the optimal cutoffs for accurate annotation, and continuing to ensure that all of these new types are easily available through community-adopted public repositories.

How has training influenced your career?

I have been lucky to have opportunities to attend training courses which helped tremendously with understanding the basics of a new subject. Also, a field such as metagenomics is progressing so fast that training gives a great snapshot of the recent updates and methods that others are using for similar research.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Keep up to date with upcoming courses which are interesting to you. Twitter or LinkedIn can be useful for this, or even the webpages of some of your favourite institutions. However, I found that asking colleagues and peers about training courses they have attended is most informative.

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

To be honest, I went home one day from school and startled my parents with the news that bacteria are the new “cool” – so I’m not sure that I would have done something else! I enjoy singing and it might have been fun and challenging to pursue that.

Which methods and new technologies will be addressed in the course?

There is currently a lot of interest in generating metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) from microbiome data, so we will work through this process including potential tools you might use for the various steps, as well as things to consider in controlling the quality of your data. An introduction to MGnify will also highlight the specialised pipelines used to analyse different types of microbiome data: amplicon, WGS reads, and assemblies.

What are the highlights of the course?

The course will give an overview of metagenomic data analysis including, browsing public data, quality control, and assembly of sequenced metagenomes, tools, and methods to analyse metagenomic data and submission to public archives. There will be a mixture of live and recorded talks, practicals, and Q&A’s with lots of opportunities for discussion. A personal highlight is the chance to learn about the research projects of others attending the course!


Interested in this course? Apply by 03 September.

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

Follow us:

EMBL is looking for scientists with artistic talent!

Are you a scientist who is interested in structural biology and bioinformatics and passionate about arts?

This is your chance to showcase your talent!

EMBL is looking for scientists with an artistic vein who can transform scientific theories into art.

What do you need to do?

Create an original piece of art representing scientific and/or societal concepts relating to a structure in the Protein Data Bank.

Need some inspiration? Look here: http://www.wwpdb.org/

If your artwork is selected, it will be hosted on www.artsteps.com, an innovative, web-based application targeted at the PDB research community.

“This art exhibition is part of the EMBL Conference: Bringing Molecular Structure to Life: 50 Years of the PDB run by our team, the Protein Data Bank in Europe. Through this project we aim to provide new interpretations of molecular structures through artwork. And this allows the introduction of complex scientific themes in a more accessible form to the general public,” explained David Armstrong, Scientific Database Curator from EMBL-EBI.

You can create your artwork using any technique or media.

And why should scientists submit their artwork?

“The exhibition will allow scientists to present their area of work or interest in a new context through the medium of art. This will also help them to think about how to communicate their work, particularly to people from a non-scientific background,” said David Armstrong.

Please bear in mind that we will need a high-resolution image of the artwork to be able to present it in the virtual exhibition.

Together with the artwork, the following data provided by you will be displayed:

  • Name of the submitter
  • Affiliation of the submitter
  • Research stage
  • Which protein the artwork is linked to
  • What technique/tools were used to create the final piece
  • Short description about the artwork.

The opening of the exhibition will take place on 13 October 2021, during the launch of the virtual conference platform for the EMBL Conference: Bringing Molecular Structure to Life: 50 Years of the PDB and will stay open for one year.

We are looking forward to getting to know the artist in you!

More information and submission details can be found on the conference website.

 

 

 

 

Follow us:

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.

Follow us:

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.

 

Follow us:

Metagenomics and Ribosome Profiling Smartly Explained

The science behind molecular biology is advancing fast and scientists are eager to create and share new content. But the more content is being created, the harder it is to reach the desired audience. Therefore, the scientific community has had to come up with new attractive formats to help spread valuable scientific content.

One format that is currently popular is explainer videos, which combine both, audio and visual elements to untangle a topic. It has been proved that when one sense is activated we keep part of the information, but with the activation of multiple senses we can process and store far more.

We have therefore created explainer videos as part of our e-learning series.

“It was a great experience working on this project for our virtual courses. We are very fortunate to have Daniel Krüger, a former PhD student creating the graphics for these videos. This immensely improved the communication between the scientific advisers and the graphic designer because they speak the same language,” said EMBL Training Lab Manager Yvonne Yeboah, who came up with the idea of creating the explainer videos and led their production.

The first explainer video we are introducing deals with metagenomics, the genomic analysis of microbes by direct extraction and cloning of DNA, that allows studying communities of organisms directly in their natural environment.

“Our metagenomics course encompasses many different in silico and experimental approaches to understand and gain insights into microbial communities. Therefore, we thought that the visualisation of a video would provide students with an attractive overview that helps to connect and integrate all the aspects covered in the course,” explained José Eduardo González-Pastor, who organised the EMBO Practical Course: Microbial Metagenomics: A 360° Approach and acted as scientific advisor for the videos.

The second explainer video deals with the topic of ribosome profiling, a method that allows researchers to quantitatively analyse translation genome-wide and with high resolution. The video gives a comprehensive overview on how this technique works, what ribosome protected fragments (RPFs) are and what information we can obtain from them.

“Ribosome profiling is still an emerging technology. Therefore, it is great to have a concise summary that explains the method to students. I will certainly use the video for lectures and on my website,” said Sebastian Leidel and Jan Medenbach, both organisers of the EMBO Practical Course: Measuring Translational Dynamics by Ribosome Profiling and scientific advisors for the video.

Visit EMBL’s YouTube channel to find more exciting scientific content.

 

 

 

Follow us: