FASEB – The Mechanisms in Plant Development Conference

22 Oct 2019 - By: Brent Ramsey

FASEB  – The Mechanisms in Plant Development Conference

“The Mechanisms in Plant Development Conference” was the 17th meeting on this topic and was held at St Bonaventure University, Olean (NY) from July 28 – August 2 2019.

By Brent Ramsey 

This conference is a unique scientific meeting at the intersections of plant development, signaling, modeling, genomics and evolution. Scientific exchange occurred through talks, poster sessions, and intensive scientific discussion. Topics covered broad areas of plant development, including sessions on establishing and elaborating the body plan, maintaining indeterminate growth, cell to cell communication, cellular specialization, signaling and crosstalk, developmental plasticity, and tissue patterning. This year, in particular, we were excited about integrating evo-devo approaches from a wide range of study species into the sessions arranged by conceptual theme.

The meeting brought together 151 researchers at all levels from Universities and research institutions in the US (64%), Europe (26%) and elsewhere in the world (10%). Among them, 25 invited speakers (including the Keynote speaker) and 8 session chairs, all recognized leaders in the field. The Keynote address on the opening evening was 45 min, whereas presentations from the remaining Invited speakers were 30 min. With one male and one female organizer and an almost equal ratio of 48% to 52% female and male invited speakers, respectively, this meeting represents an outstanding example for gender equality in science. In addition, 22 abstracts were selected for short talks (15 min) and presented by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. Again here, the numbers of female and male presenters was nearly equal (12 female, 10 male) and roughly reflective of the gender ratio of attendees in general (46% female and 54% male).

The meeting was organized in nine sessions, with three or four presentations from invited speakers and four to six short talks. We also included three poster teaser sessions in the programme, with up to eight 3-minute talks selected from the abstracts. This format greatly increased the diversity of the meeting, and allowed inclusion of hot-of-the-press stories, not known at the time the invited speakers were selected and students and postdocs gave favourable feedback. In the Plenary session, Jane Langdale from the University of Oxford opened the meeting by explaining her latest advances in understanding and manipulating vein spacing in maize and rice. Presentations over the following four days were organized into the sessions listed below:

  1. Establishing the body plan
  2. Cell-cell communication
  3. Elaborating the body plan
  4. Cellular specialization
  5. Signalling and crosstalk
  6. Developmental plasticity
  7. Tissue patterning
  8. Maintaining indeterminate growth

Two new career development approaches were organized for the 2019 meeting. Lunches and poster sessions included informal sessions where students and postdocs could approach PIs, as usual. However, instead of formal Meet the Speaker sessions on specific topics, we enlisted all PIs attending the meeting to register for a sign-up sheet in which students and postdocs could meet in groups of three for an afternoon free time meet up. PIs listed on the sign-up sheet particular areas of expertise or experiences that students and postdocs could use as a guide to choose the PI. For example, one of our attendees was a tenured professor at a primarily undergraduate teaching university, Franklin and Marshall, and students/postdocs interested in primarily teaching/undergraduate research careers signed up with this PI.  Another attendee was a department chair at a major research department and offered insights particular for postdocs entering the job market what major departments are looking for. Students, postdocs and PIs appeared to be pleased with this informal but specialized approach to career development. We also calculated that the one-on-one informal sessions would help younger scientists establish a memorable connection with the PI.

A second new career development sessions included two other workshop/discussion groups. In the first, we conducted a single-cell RNA-seq workshop that gave young researchers a chance to learn about and ask questions about this new technique to incorporate into their own research. The second informal session included a discussion of lab sustainability and responsibility led by Olivier Hamant. This included a discussion of what research labs could do to reduce the plastic and energy consumption of their practices. While the session was geared toward all groups, younger scientists were particular vocal and invested in this discussion. Several action items were outlined and the session was well attended. We did not judge posters or give out awards but rather held three poster teaser sessions. A total of 25 students and postdocs and a few PIs gave three-minute presentations that provided a “big picture” view of their work, methods and perhaps a tantalizing result to draw other attendees to their poster. This seemed like a better way to draw attention to the entire cadre of students and postdocs whose work was near completion and who were looking to embark on the next phase of their career.


Author: Brent Ramsey
Category: SEB News