Expand your scientific horizons

Published November 01 2016

“To succeed in science, you have to learn new strategies, form new collaborations and see your work from a fresh angle. At the ASBMB annual meeting, you can meet new people in other areas, fertilize your mind with their knowledge and use this to spark new avenues in your own endeavors.”

The quote above comes from Natalie Ahn, president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, who wrote it in the President’s Message for the October issue of ASBMB Today. Ahn, who also is serving as a co-organizer of the 2017 annual meeting with the ASBMB’s past president, Steven McKnight of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is putting those words into action.

At the next ASBMB annual meeting in Chicago, four scientific events will run concurrently for two hours between April 23 and April 26. Ahn and McKnight have recruited 17 leaders from a wide variety of research areas that lie within the realm of biochemistry and molecular biology. To those 17 leading scientific researchers, Ahn and McKnight have given the freedom to put together their dream scientific symposia.

And they have. Below are descriptions of the 17 scientific symposia that have been brought together by these leaders. (The 17th event, devoted to antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, is sponsored by the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee.)

What this setup means for attendees is that they will have a veritable smorgasbord of science. From lipid biochemistry to metabolomics, these symposia showcase the best and the most exciting research endeavors happening right now in the life sciences. Cutting-edge science from all over biochemistry and molecular biology will be made available at this one, must-attend conference. Submit your abstract for this meeting by Nov. 17.


Biochemistry, physiology and pathophysiology of sphingolipids

Lipid biochemistry is experiencing a Renaissance. Unprecedented developments in tools and insights are coming to bear on this field of study and its relevance to biology and human disease. I am organizing a special group of international leaders in lipid biochemistry and biology who will present the status of their respective domains and cutting-edge developments within this field. Howard Riezman of Weill Cornell Medical College will discuss links between amino acid and sphingolipid metabolism and their effects on sphingolipid functions in health and resistance to anoxia.  Timothy Hla of Weill Cornell Medical College will describe studies that support the notion that sphingosine-1-phosphate-binding chaperones modulate sphingosine 1-phosphate’s signaling in vascular function in pathophysiology. Antonella De Matteis of Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine will discuss new insights on membrane contact sites and advances in approaches to study them. Gregory Fairn of St. Michael’s Hospital, who is receiving the Walter A. Shaw Young Investigator Award, will discuss subcellular localization and dynamics of lipids. I will present the structure of neutral sphingomyelinase and discuss its roles in the DNA damage response.

— Yusuf Hannun, Stony Brook University

Life at higher resolution: single-molecule and single-cell technologies

The biological questions we can answer are determined by the precision of the measurements done by the tools at our disposal. In this symposium, speakers will present the latest in single-molecule and single-cell technologies, which can probe DNA and chromatin processes at higher resolution than ever possible and use DNA as a precision self-assembled material to probe cellular and molecular mechanics. You will get a glimpse of the future of single-molecule biology, which lies in the convergence of emerging technologies, such as protein and genome engineering, DNA origami, genomics, microfluidics and plasmonics, to enable capabilities that are currently unthinkable.

— Taekjip Ha, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Pharmacological manipulation of the HIF pathway

he HIF transcription factor is a master regulator of genes that promote adaptation to hypoxia. Mounting evidence suggests that increasing HIF would be beneficial in diseases such as renal anemia and regional ischemia, and decreasing HIF would be beneficial in diseases such as specific cancers and pulmonary hypertension. First-generation drugs that stabilize HIF have entered the clinic. Recent structural insights have opened the door for the development of the first inhibitors that work directly on HIF. This symposium will feature talks related to HIF biology and structure and to drugs designed to modulate HIF activity.

— William Kaelin, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Dynamics of cytoskeletal assembly

This symposium will feature research that brings together insights from biochemical analysis of reconstituted systems, quantitative measurements in live cells and mathematical modeling to understand cellular mechanochemistry. Melissa Gardener at the University of Minnesota analyzes how microtubule dynamics contribute to the movements of chromosomes during mitosis. Margaret Gardel at the University of Chicago uses measurements on reconstituted networks of actin filaments and myosin to understand the physics of their assembly and force generation. Ohio State University’s Marco Sotomayor studies how cadherins contribute to mechanotransduction in the ear. My laboratory combines measurements on live cells and mathematical modeling to explain how the contractile ring divides cells during cytokinesis.

— Thomas Pollard, Yale University


New insights into nuclear structure and function

Recent developments in our understanding of nuclear organization and gene expression have helped us better comprehend the inner workings of the cell nucleus. Four leaders in this field will provide critical insights into transcriptional regulation using single-molecule imaging approaches, genetic and biochemical approaches to studying pre-mRNA splicing, the role of the nuclear lamina in nuclear organization and disease, and the role of nuclear retained long noncoding RNAs in cancer biology. Attendees will become immersed in the exciting world of nuclear biology and learn how recent advances in technology have helped to move this field ahead at a remarkable pace.

— David Spector, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Supramolecular complexes

Proteins associate with one another to form complexes and perform their activities. Edward Marcotte from the University of Texas at Austin and I will describe complementary approaches to the identification of protein-complex components, through extensive biochemical fractionation of cellular lysate or through in vivo biotinylation coupled to mass spectrometry. These presentations will highlight the requirement for computational strategies to derive the composition of the complexes and define changes in these complexes after perturbations. The other two presentations will emphasize the complementary nature of mass spectrometry and cryoelectron microscopy to reveal the structural organization of supramolecular complexes. Albert Heck of Utrecht University will discuss advances in mass spectrometry to assist in the structural determination of protein complexes. John Rubinstein from The Hospital for Sick Children will discuss the development of cryoelectron microscopy and its application to bridge the resolution gaps between more conventional microscopy and the types of high-resolution analyses mostly done by NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography.

— Anne-Claude Gingras, Lunenfeld–Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital

Basis of longevity and age-related diseases

Aging is one of the most fascinating mysteries in biology. Old age is associated with a plethora of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer. This symposium will cover the most exciting questions at the forefront of the aging field. Linda Partridge from the Max Planck Institute will discuss the pathways that can slow the aging process and promote longevity. Andrew Dillin from the University of California, Berkeley, will present how different cells and systems communicate to modulate aging. Matt Kaeberlein from the University of Washington will discuss how companion dogs can help us discover aging therapeutics. I will present our work developing the African killifish as a new model for aging and longevity.

— Anne Brunet, Stanford University

Discovery and development of new enzyme chemistry

With their ability to catalyze complex reactions at high rates and with absolute regio- and stereospecificity outside the repertoire of today’s synthetic chemists, enzymes hold unfulfilled promise to transform the way we make drugs and other high-value chemicals. Efforts to map the pathways by which natural products are constructed continue to reveal unmatched enzymatic transformations. These discoveries, coupled with our ability to evolve enzymes in a directed fashion, will enable entirely new synthetic routes. Leaders in this area will highlight recent progress toward the discovery and evolution of new enzymatic reactions with potential utility in synthetic chemistry.

— J. Martin Bollinger Jr., Penn State University


Organelle trafficking and signaling

This symposium will focus on how various cells ensure the integrity of organelles. Neurons are highly differentiated, long-lived cells that depend on autophagy to maintain homeostasis in response to proteotoxic stress or organelle dysfunction. Erika Holzbaur from the University of Pennsylvania will discuss the mechanisms regulating autophagy in neurons. Navdeep Chandel at Northwestern University will describe how his work has elucidated that mitochondria function as signaling organelles for various biological processes. Martin Hetzer from the Salk Institute will describe the mechanisms underlying the repeated rounds of nuclear envelope rupture and repair that have been observed in laminopathy and cancer cells. Finally, my group studies membrane contact sites between the endoplasmic reticulum and other organelles. I will discuss mechanisms that allow membrane contact sites at the endoplasmic reticulum to drive constriction and division of other organelles.

— Gia Voeltz, University of Colorado, Boulder

Metal homeostasis

Acquisition, management and delivery of metal ions is a significant part of metabolism for all domains of life. Aberrant handling of copper, zinc, iron and manganese is linked to numerous human diseases. The virulence of pathogens depends on a complex interplay between metal acquisition by the pathogen and immune response by the human host. Understanding molecular mechanisms of metal homeostasis is critical to developing new therapeutics, combating microbial infections and even mitigating heavy-metal pollution in the environment. This symposium will highlight recent research at the front lines of this field.

— Amy Rosenzweig, Northwestern University

Biochemical basis of cellular processes

Biochemistry continues to be a major tool in our quest to understand the fundamental processes of living organisms. Four leading biochemists will demonstrate how classical biochemical approaches, coupled with modern molecular biological and chemical methods, can reveal the molecular mechanisms of several fundamental biological processes. The processes include cell death, epigenetic regulation and fighting microbial infections.

— Xiaodong Wang, National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing

Glycobiology, glycan receptors and functional glycomics

This symposium will cover the exciting roles of glycans in antibody functionality, infectious diseases, innate immunity and organelle biogenesis. Galit Alter from Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital will describe her work on innate-immunity profiling tools and high-throughput antibody glycosylation profiling that highlight the immunologic programs driving antibody glycosylation and function. Her work is paving the way for the rational design of highly effective vaccine strategies and monoclonal antibodies to prevent infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. Using modern glycomics and microarray approaches, Richard Cummings from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has discovered a wide variety of mammalian glycans that are required for infections by different pathogens. These glycans are recognized by both glycan-binding proteins as well as pathogen-stimulated anti-glycan antibodies. Laura Kiessling from the University of Wisconsin, Madison will describe how glycan-binding proteins function as microbial detectors in innate immunity. I will discuss my group’s structural studies on the glycan-binding receptors that are essential for the generation of lysosomes and are targeted in the treatment of lysosomal storage diseases.

— Nancy Dahms, Medical College of Wisconsin


New insights in regulated lipid metabolism

This symposium will highlight some of the most exciting recent discoveries in the area of lipid metabolism. Russell Debose–Boyd at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will present his recent work regarding an understudied area in the regulation of cholesterol metabolism: The regulated degradation of the key enzyme involved in cholesterol biosynthesis, hydroxymethylgutaryl-coenzyme A reductase. Lina Obeid from Stony Brook University will present some of her work on the impact of regulated sphingolipid metabolism in cancers. Stephen G. Young at the University of California, Los Angeles, will outline exciting discoveries that expand our understanding of the triglyceride-rich lipoprotein metabolism and laminopathies. Finally, my laboratory has identified a new lipase critical for regulating lipid metabolism, the adipocyte triglyceride lipase. I will present recent research on the role of this enzyme in physiological and pathophysiological processes.

— Rudolf Zechner, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Karl Franzens Universität Graz

Molecular quality control

Molecular quality control is the process by which the capabilities of macromolecules are judged. Those found wanting are destroyed, and their components are recycled. This cellular process is central to the fitness of biological systems. We shall explore the subject from different perspectives. Adam Frost from the University of California, San Francisco, will tell us about quality control at the level of the ribosome. Bernd Bukau from the Zentrum für Molekulare Biologie der Universität Heidelberg will tell us how chaperones are implicated in post-production protein quality control. Chris Lima from the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center will provide structural insight into the workings of the machinery that turns over defunct macromolecules. Susan Ackerman from University of California, San Diego, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute will provide a physiological perspective on the role of quality control in the context of mouse models of neurodegenerative disease. I will examine the question of quality control in the high-flux environment of the early secretory pathway of complex eukaryotic cells.

— David Ron, University of Cambridge

Low-complexity domain proteins and the making of germ cells

This symposium will address exciting new developments in germ-cell formation. It has long been known that low-complexity proteins form protein assemblies that bind RNAs and control the formation of germ cells in flies and worms. More recent work has shown that proteins with such characteristics are instrumental in germ-cell formation in most, perhaps all, organisms. Low-complexity domain proteins with RNA-binding properties control meiosis, the cell division that produces germ cells, and are critical for the development of germ-cell characteristics. Talks scheduled in this session will address the mechanistic basis for how this class of proteins mediates these essential germ cell functions and a discussion of why this form of regulation is so critical in germ-cell development.

— Angelika Amon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Redox signaling and the metabolome

Oxidation-reduction reactions are the ultimate drivers of all life processes. Redox-active metabolites are the products of energy metabolism, the drivers of biosynthetic reactions and purveyors of cellular signaling. This symposium will capture important aspects of the field by featuring talks about biocatalysts by Joan Broderick from Montana State University and David Sherman from the University of Michigan, redox regulation by Vadim Gladyshev from Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and signaling by me.

— Ruma Banerjee, University of Michigan Medical School

Issues in depth

Issues in Depth is a series of symposia focused this year on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. The series is sponsored by the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee.

Antibiotics, the drugs that kill pathogenic bacteria, are the most successful medicines ever found by humans. However, due to Darwinian selection, bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotics. There is a constant race between our ability to find new inhibitors of bacterial growth and the ability of pathogens to find ways to become tolerant to the new drugs. This multi-day series of symposia on antibiotics and resistance will bring together top researchers to discuss new approaches for drug discovery, new insights into the molecular mechanisms of antibiotic action, and new understanding of the principles of appearance and spread of antibiotic resistance.

— Alexander Mankin, University of Illinois at Chicago

Sunday, April 23:

New approaches for antibiotic discovery

Monday, April 24:

New insights into mechanisms of antibiotic action

Tuesday, April 25:

Antibiotic resistance