HIgHlIgHTs FROM THE EMBO MEETINg 2012 Question time at the 4th EMBO Meeting in Nice, France From the cell cycle to the evolution of life THE 4TH EMBO MEETINg took place at the Acropolis Convention Centre in Nice, France, on 22–25 September 2012. More than 1000 scientists from across the globe attended the event to hear leading scientists talk about the latest developments in the life sciences. Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute, opened the meeting with a keynote lecture that exam- ined the intricacies of the control of the cell cycle. He emphasized the importance of genetics for understanding the many processes involved in the control of the cell cycle but cautioned that it was often necessary to simplify large genetic and protein networks before tackling biological questions. Eric Karsenti, Co-Director of the TARA OCEANS project and Senior group Leader at EMBL, gave the special lecture on the second day of the meeting. In a talk rich in visual content, Karsenti described the forgotten world of the living ocean revealed by the two-and-a-half year voyage of the TARA OCEANS expedition. “98% of the biomass in the oceans is unicel- lular and the different types of ocean environments that these organisms inhabit is a clear driving force of evolution,” remarked Karsenti. “We have discovered many new species of plankton during our voyage. Now we are starting the next phase of investigation where we will use the experimental data to build and run computational models that will describe in detail the evolution of marine ecosystems.” Linda Partridge, Director of the Institute of Healthy Ageing in Cologne, germany, and Director of the University College London Institute of Healthy Ageing in the United Kingdom, gave the keynote lecture on Monday that focused on the biology of ageing. “Ageing is malleable to single gene muta- tions,” said Partridge. “Slowing ageing by mutations or drugs can protect against diverse ageing-related diseases. In time, it should be possible to use drugs to improve human lifespan and the quality of life as we age.” The EMBO Meeting included 20 concurrent sessions that spanned topics such as optogenetics, chromatin regulation, the world of RNA and the link between oxygen sensing and disease. Karl Deisseroth, Professor at Stanford University in the United States, explained how the combination of genetic and optical methods is allow- ing scientists to understand at very high-resolution events that are taking place within living tissues or organisms. “Optogenetics is a way of making specific cells in a living organism responsive to light. You can control cells with all the precision that flashes of light have.” Deisseroth and colleagues introduce microbial opsin genes into animal tissues to achieve very precise control of neurons with light. In this way, specific neurons can be turned on or off and it is possible to investigate the impact of these cells on the behav- ior of rats that show symptoms of neurological and psychiatric diseases. In his plenary lecture on the last day of the meeting, Peter Carmeliet, Director of the VIB Vesalius Research Center at the University of Leuven in Belgium, described strategies to control angiogenesis by targeting endothe- lial metabolism. Carmeliet likened this approach to “blocking the engine rather than the driver.” In this case, the engine is the metabolic switch that fuels the proliferation of blood vessels that often accompanies diseases like cancer. Kari Alitalo, Professor of the Finnish Academy of Sciences and Director of the Center of Excellence at the Biomedicum Helsinki research institute at the University of Helsinki, Finland, revealed the therapeutic potential of vascular endothelial growth factors. He described several preclinical stud- ies that indicate the potential for the development of therapeutics, in many cases antibodies, that affect the activities of these growth factors and which may have beneficial effects in cardiovascular disease and cancer. Some of these therapeutics candidates are entering early-stage clinical trials. ©2012 EMBO EMBOencounters | Autumn 2012 | communications@embo.org 3 E ric Zaragoza | Vence | Côte d’Azur