Decoding neural circuit structure and function workshop

Published in Protocols & Methods

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The last couple of months have been busy for the Nature Protocols editors, with Mel and I both travelling a fair amount. The end of September saw me heading off to Istanbul, Turkey for the EMBO workshop on “Decoding neural circuit structure and function”. I had been thinking a little warmth at the end of September would be a welcome change, but ironically I think it was actually warmer in London! And we didn’t really need all the rain to encourage us to attend sessions, given the excellent line up.

I don’t have the space to discuss all the talks at great length, and it was also encouraging to see so much unpublished data being presented, which I must not share. But here are my highlights.

The first talk of the meeting was by Juergen Knoblich, and it was great to hear about his current projects, using Drosophila genetics to understand cell cycle exit and quiescence plus the contribution of changing the balance of asymmetric versus symmetric divisions in development of various disorders. It was also good to hear that his group are doing more work on the brain organoids, whose creation has already been explained in their group’s recent Nature Protocols article. I was intrigued that a member of the audience asked about the ethical implications of such organoids – it was a question I asked myself whilst editing our article.

I enjoyed learning about behavioural assays using the larval zebrafish from Florian Engert. It was amazing to see what such tiny organisms are capable of. Scott Waddell’s talk was focused to resolving how an animal decides to do the most appropriate thing at a particular moment, using Drosophila as his model system. This question came up as the main research question being addressed in several speaker’s talks.

Another fascinating talk was by Leslie Vosshall on “Sensory cues driving host-seeking behavior in the dengue vector mosquito Aedes aegypti”. Leslie’s groups’ research should help address whether there is any truth in the various old wives tales concerning whether particular factors increase a person’s attractiveness to mosquitos. I spoke to some other researchers about Leslie’s talk and they are confident Leslie will be able to improve the repertoire of molecular biology research tools available for the study of Aedes aegypti. So, it is worth keeping an eye on what Leslie is up to.

The final talk of the conference was by Gero Miesenböck. I very much enjoyed the pictures of the T-maze apparatus his group uses to perform mass behavioural assays in Drosophila.

In addition to all the fabulous talks there were stimulating poster sessions. I particularly liked the poster by Deniz Atasoy from Medipol University, Istanbul, on a Genetically encoded synaptic marker for electron microscopy (GESEM) that he developed. This poster was awarded the Nature Protocols poster prize, going to the poster with the best protocol behind it. Special mention should also go to Xuefan Gao from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen, whose poster on AVEXIS, a protein-protein interaction screen assay, was also very methodological in slant.

Do let us know if you are organising a conference and would like to have a Nature Protocols poster prize as we are always looking out for opportunities to sponsor such prizes.

We also enjoyed conference dinners at Bogaziçi Üniversitesi and on a boat on the Bosphorus – so it wasn’t all work! The conference organisers, Arzu Celik, Nilay Yapici and Hernan Lopez-Schier, deserve a special thank you for being so welcoming and organising such a good program. Istanbul is a beautiful city and well worth a visit.

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