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28th Fungal Genetics Conference, California, USA 17th -22nd March 2015
A major highlight of attending the 28th Fungal Genetics Conference was the wide range of concurrent sessions held each afternoon. It was always hard to choose which session to attend, and this often resulted in having to run from one side of the conference grounds to the other between breaks!
One of my favourite talks was given by Dr Luis Larrondo from Chile. Dr Larrondo’s group researches circadian regulation of gene expression and its effect on plant-pathogen interactions, using the model necrotrophic pathogen Botrytis cinerea. I was particularly fascinated to learn about the importance that light signals play in modulating pathogenicity in B. cinerea, and how the group managed to “jet-lag” the pathogen so that it infected the host at a different time of day than normal. This was intriguing as their work suggests that fungal clocks are able to synchronise key elements of virulence and pathogenesis.
Another highlight of attending was the opportunity to present my own work in the form of a talk at the Dothideomycete satellite meeting and a poster during the main conference (pictured below).
Both were invaluable experiences which enabled me to practice my presentation skills and discuss exciting future projects with leading experts in the field.
The poster sessions (which were held each evening) were also excellent opportunities to network and learn about cutting-edge research currently being carried out. I particularly enjoyed chatting to other researchers from different universities and institutions across the world, and learning about the variety of projects being done.
Anna Tiley University of Bristol In the Plenary session on Evolution, Toni GabaldÃ³n (Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona) presented a revolutionary talk concerning the generally accepted fact that the genome structure of yeasts in the Saccharomyces clade had arisen from an ancient whole genome duplication event. Instead he provided compelling evidence, based on phylogenomic analysis, that the extant Saccharomyces genome structure was better explained as having arisen from an ancient inter-species hybridisation event and that the observed genome doubling was a direct consequence of this hybridisation, which served to provide stability to the recently formed allopolyploid. These findings have implications for supposed whole genome duplications elsewhere in the fungal kingdom. In a different Plenary session (on Signals) our very own Nick Talbot (University of Exeter) presented findings relating to the role of cell cycle control in plant infection by the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. In a talk beautifully illustrated with a range of videos and still images, it was argued that appressorium formation requires a series of cell cycle and pressuremediated checkpoints to initiate a septin ring structure at the appressorial tip with reorientation of the cytoskeleton to facilitate plant tissue invasion.
Meanwhile, the ‘Mating Systems and Sexual Development’ concurrent session provided some fascinating insights into fungal sexual biology. The first half of the session was devoted to talks relating to mating-type (MAT) genes. The prevalence of asexuality in some cosmopolitan lichen species was suggested to be due to the fact that they were composed entirely of only one mating type, as revealed by genome sequencing, and therefore there was no opportunity for sexual crossing (Hannah Johannesson, Upsala University). Matingtype genes were described for the first time from cereal rust fungi, and it was found that stage-specific transcripts were produced on the alternative host, which included some putative effectors (Guus Bakkeren, Agriculture and Agri- Food, Canada). Ascomycete MAT genes were then demonstrated to control not only mating processes, but more broad sexual developmental processes related to fruit body and ascospore formation (Paul Dyer, University Of Nottingham).
The second part of the session was devoted to mating and sexual development more broadly. A fascinating account of the mechanism and advantages of unisexual mating occurring between same-sex partners of pathogenic Cryptococcus species was given, and it was argued that an ancestral eukaryote may have been unisexual, exhibiting ‘sex before sexes’ (Joe Heitman, Duke University). The power of techniques such as RNA-Seq, ChIP-Seq allied to exquisite fluorescent staining of cell protein complexes was then demonstrated in talks which showed the cellular control of MAPK and VeA modules, together with transcription factors and secondary metabolism, in ascomycete fruit body formation (Ozgur Bayram, Maynooth University, University of Bochum).
Paul S Dyer University of Nottingham