Disordered Motifs and Domains in Cell Control: Two Perspectives on the Meeting

Group Photo final
Scientists from a broad range of specialties  congregated from all corners of the world in Dublin, the beautiful capital of Ireland, in October for the Disordered Motifs and Domains in Cell Control Meeting. The meeting, sponsored by the Biophysical Society, brought together biophysicists, and cell, structural, and computational biologists alike, all sharing a common interest in disordered signaling motifs. The atmosphere in historic Dublin was animate and collegial with fluid mingling between faculty, postdocs and students, with equal opportunity of interactions, during talks, coffee breaks, lunches, dinners and of course, over a pint of Guinness. The poster sessions were lively, with top-shelf quality presentations.

Mitrea discusses a poster during the meeting.

Mitrea discusses a poster during the meeting.

The heterogeneity of the attendees’ backgrounds highlighted the broad importance of motifs and disordered protein regions in life sciences. A critical realization came about: we are part of a truly interdisciplinary field and as such, we as a community have a tremendously diverse set of technologies that we can utilize for the study of motifs in biology. During the four days of lectures and two poster sessions, we learned how computational methods are applied to the wealth of existing data to identify and predict functional motifs; that biochemistry and high resolution microscopy techniques help interrogate the regulation of motif-mediated cellular signaling in live cells; and that enzymology and single molecule fluorescence methods along with structural, kinetic and thermodynamic techniques for protein characterization are used to investigate intimate details of individual proteins and macromolecular assemblies. We learned how motifs evolved and co-evolved in hosts and their respective pathogens; how motifs are used to regulate enzymatic reactions, control signal transduction in cells, mold the cellular cytoskeleton and control cellular trafficking.  We also learned that low complexity motifs mediate protein-protein and protein-RNA assembly, via a phase transition phenomenon, to  form membrane-less organelles. Model systems ranging from in silico mathematical models, to recombinant proteins, to living isolated cells and whole organisms were used in the discussed studies, only to reinforce the biological relevance of linear motifs in cellular signaling, human disease and drug design.

Too often during the meeting I had heard the phrase: “I normally do not attend this type of meeting” and I think that this is why this particular conference was so successful. Collaborations have sprung out of this meeting, from the realization that expertise that one was unfamiliar with was the bread and butter of another group. To paraphrase Norman Davey, who in my opinion, really captured the essence of this Disordered Motifs meeting: we came with a particular package of knowledge and preconceptions and left with a bigger, enhanced package of knowledge and perhaps a different mindset on several of our preconceptions.    

–Diana Mitrea, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee

This meeting was a great follow up of the earlier Gordon Conference on Intrinsically Disordered Proteins, held in the United States in July. As a Junior Associate Researcher developing research on viral linear motifs and intrinsically disordered proteins, I found these two meetings to be uniquely useful and enjoyable on many levels. I work at the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina, so it was a long trip to Dublin. But I must say that every bit of effort I made to attend was absolutely worth it, and I’m very grateful for the strong support I received from the meeting organizers, who took it in their hands to help make my attendance possible.

One way the meeting really stood out from many others, was in the research community present throughout the conference. The general ambience set by the organizers was one of cooperation, with many participants helping out in microphone handling. The number of attendees (~100) gave an intimate feel to the meeting, and the four days it lasted were enough for me to build many new relationships. The location brought many European researchers that had not attended the Gordon Conference. I presented a poster, and was surprised by the interest shown by many scientists, several of which I did not previously know. One of these interactions was so productive that it might even give rise to a new collaboration. The poster sessions, as well as lunch and dinnertime, were great opportunities to get to know other scientists, and I was also surprised by the great deal of useful career advice that senior scientists gave me. Given my location in Argentina, this aspect of the meeting was one of the most unique I can point out.

The scientific program was outstanding, with talks covering broad topics, from systems biology through molecular level NMR studies of linear motifs. The organization kept a great balance between different approaches, and brought together top scientists from each field to give the talks. Discussions were encouraged and brought up interesting and controversial issues to the table. I left the meeting with the feeling that I had been exposed to the most exciting recent findings as well as to the leading challenges in the field, at the same time that I got to interact with the scientists doing the work. In my opinion it takes a lot to bring this sense of perspective and community to a single four-day encounter, and this meeting definitely achieved it. On top of it all, the beauty of Dublin made it a really enjoyable time.

I could not be happier to have attended the meeting, and left with the feeling that it will have a very positive impact on my research and career. I will definitely be waiting for the next time this great group of scientists comes together again to share their work.

–Lucía Chemes, Leloir Institute, Buenos Aires, Argentina


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