April 2012

Evolution and molecular Lego

 

2012 ASBMB SPECIAL SYMPOSIA

NEW THIS YEAR:
Minority travel awards are available for each symposium. See the website for deadlines and details about this and other opportunities.

www.asbmb.org/specialsymposia

Mitochondria: Energy, Signals and Homeostasis
June 27 – June 29, East Lansing, Mich.

Frontiers in Lipid Biology
Sept. 4 – 9, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Transcriptional Regulation: Chromatin and RNA Polymerase II
Oct. 4 – 8, Snowbird, Utah

Post-Translational Modifi cations: Detection and Physiological Role
Oct. 11 – 14, Tahoe City, Calif.

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Molecular Lego
As we obtain more and more protein structures, we see that certain folds are used to achieve distantly related but likely functionally similar processes. Sometimes structure conservation is achieved by gene duplication, but other times convergent evolution appears to come to a common solution. Structural biologists surely know more of this than the rest of us (and I implore them here to please write a review or send one to me); all of us should learn more about this. When we find proteins of unknown function, structurally related proteins may provide us with important clues to how those proteins work. A wonderful example is the structure of certain nuclear pore complex proteins that resemble elements of clathrin transport vesicle coats: They were made up of an alpha solenoid connected to a beta propeller to form a flexible, macromolecular assembly. Transport vesicle tethering factors share this feature; perhaps this is trying to tell us that transport vesicle coats once performed a tethering role.

The conference was enhanced by tutorial lectures by many of the speakers to provide the background information needed for students (and faculty members) from diverse areas to be able to appreciate the topic. This made it possible to include a truly interdisciplinary set of speakers and topics. In times of tight research funding, it may be more important than ever to encourage scientists to organize and attend such combination workshop-conferences. A great way to initiate valuable collaborations is to bring people together and provide them with lots of time to interact with one another and to learn what others are thinking about. Collaboration will continue to be more important when funds are tight, and the best collaborations team scientists from different disciplines who can bring to the table distinct approaches and tools. Meetings can energize us, stimulate new ideas and catalyze the discovery of novel connections between diverse proteins, pathways or systems.

This month, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology holds its annual meeting in San Diego, and we are also sponsoring a number of smaller, member-initiated meetings on a variety of topics. We encourage you to help identify cutting-edge, interdisciplinary topics for consideration for ASBMB-sponsored special symposia or annual meeting themes for next year and beyond. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you in San Diego!

Suzanne PfefferASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer (pfeffer@stanford.edu) is the Emma Pfeiffer Merner professor of medical sciences and a biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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