September 2013

Speaking of fat: ASBMB 2014 meeting in San Diego

Communication is a cornerstone of scientific advances. I’ve always maintained that a large part of science is a dialogue among colleagues within and across disciplines. That’s one of the important aspects of the annual American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting. It provides a mechanism for stimulating disciplinary and interdisciplinary discussions among established investigators, new investigators and, perhaps most importantly, budding investigators. In the lipid community, we take this opportunity seriously and work hard to provide a spirited camaraderie that welcomes ideas and inputs for all investigators within and outside our discipline.
The ASBMB annual meeting always includes a wealth of new and exciting lipid research, and the 2014 meeting in San Diego will be no different. This meeting includes programming on lipid chemistry, biochemistry, biophysical chemistry, and biology and physiology. There will be talks focused on chemical probes and pharmacology of lipid systems. New aspects of lipid metabolism, trafficking and biosynthesis will be presented, including exciting new genetic models of lipid metabolism and lipidomic approaches. There will be presentations on lipid organization in membranes and signaling along with new functional roles of lipids in gene expression, inflammation and stress.
As one example, four sessions will be dedicated to the structural and functional complexities of cellular membranes and related proteins that have been revealed by recent biophysical studies. Organized by Karen G. Fleming of Johns Hopkins University and Vinzenz Unger of Northwestern University, this thematic programming will cover membrane-associated scaffolds and scaffold-dependent membrane dynamics, how chaperones rein in the unfolded state, the role of heavy metals in membrane biology, and how proteins conform to allow for passage of drugs and ions across lipid bilayers.

Sandra Hofman
Mary Kraft

It almost goes without saying that our two lipid award winners will give two of our most notable presentations. Sandra L. Hofmann, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, won the Avanti Award in Lipids, now in its 19th year. Hofmann’s research has a distinctive translational flavor in that it focuses on the involvement of fatty-acid acylation of proteins in neurodegenerative disorders. For example, her group showed that disruption of the palmitoyl thioesterases PPT1 or PPT2 leads to the hereditary neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis known as infantile Batten disease. Recently, she has been studying the role of palmitoylation in neuronal development and plasticity. Mary L. Kraft, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won the Walter A. Shaw Young Investigator Award in Lipid Research. Kraft has developed some innovative biophysical approaches to interrogate and understand the dynamics of membrane lipids in living cells. In one interesting study, her lab is developing a mass spectrometry-based approach to analyze the membrane composition at the site of influenza virus budding, and it is developing an imaging MS-based approach to analyze the glycan composition in cell membranes. Hofmann’s and Kraft’s work will be presented in award lectures in April in San Diego.
Lipids again will play a prominent role in the ASBMB annual meeting, and it promises to be a very exciting meeting. And having it in San Diego just adds to the fun!

Daniel RabenDaniel M. Raben ( is a professor in the department of biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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