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International Conference on Arabidopsis Research, Chiba, Japan
5th – 9th June 2023
Thanks to the generous support of the BSPP, I was fortunate to attend the 33rd International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR). ICAR is a large conference covering all aspects of plant biology research, including plant pathology, and has evolved over time to incorporate research on plant species other than Arabidopsis. This year ICAR was a hybrid event with both a strong in person and online attendance which resulted in lively discussions in the meeting rooms but also gave the option of listening to speakers in different sessions without the awkwardness of entering or leaving a room mid-way through! Consequently, I got to hear and participate in many interesting and relevant talks across a variety of concurrent sessions, as well as being able to network with other attendees from across the world.
One exciting and newly emerging area of research is centred around cell-to-cell communication via extracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs vary in both size (30nm-1µm) and, crucially, molecular cargo which can include lipids, proteins and small RNAs. Talks by both Qiang Cai (Wuhan University, China) and Hailing Jin (UC Riverside, USA) highlighted the role of EV-mediated RNAi by the fungus Botrytis cinerea which transfers sRNA effectors into host cells to silence host virulence genes with EV internalization likely occurring via clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Prof Jin also went on discuss how her lab is developing a new generation of eco-friendly and long-lasting RNA-based fungicides using nanoparticles. Also in this session, Lionel Navarro (IBENS, France) presented his group’s findings that extracellular sRNAs, both free and bound to the surface of apoplastic EVs, can target and silence a component of the type III secretion system of Pseudomonas syringae DC3000.
In addition to attending the conference I also co-organised the concurrent session ‘Making contacts: membrane contact sites between plant organelles’ with Joe McKenna (Warwick, UK) which reflects my research interest in cell-to-cell communication during pathogen infection. Despite the 9am start time our session attracted ~100 in person attendees (standing room only) with more online! This was due, at least in part, to a stellar line up of speakers including the ever entertaining Larry Griffing (Texas A&M, USA) who gave a fascinating but somewhat controversial presentation on the effects of near UV photostimulation of the ER-chloroplast-plasma membrane contact site (MCS); and Pengwei Wang (Huazhong, China) who spoke about the ER-mitochondrial MCS and selective autophagy. Our session followed on from a previous day’s session on ‘Organelle-organelle communication under stress’ which included talks from Eunsook Park (Wyoming, USA) on stromule-mediated chloroplast-nucleus communication. Her group is aiming to identify which proteins are translocated via stromules during effector-triggered immunity with the wider goal of investigating how pathogens disturb host organelle function and interorganellar communication, which directly aligns with my own area of research. Consequently, this was an excellent opportunity to hear about her latest findings and talk to her in person about my research. Moreover, I was able to meet the session co-organiser Inge de Clercq (VIB, Belgium) who is interested in collaborating with us on the quantitative analysis of organelle-organelle interactions.
Other notable ICAR23 highlights include a fast-paced talk by Tatsuya Nobori from Joe Ecker’s lab (SALK Institute, USA) on their highly impressive single cell transcriptomic dataset (recently released in bioRxiv) which provides both spatial and temporal information of Arabidopsis leaf infection with virulent P. syringae DC3000 and avirulent DC3000 AvrRpt2 and DC3000 AvrRpm1. Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso (Leeds, UK) presented a very informative talk on intracellular communication via plasmodesmata focussing on the mechanical and structural properties of callose-cellulose in the surrounding cell walls which well complemented the previous day’s plenary talk from Anja Geitmann (McGill, Canada) on the purpose of callose plugs during fast and invasive cell growth. From a technical perspective, Yukihiro Nagashima’s (Texas A&M, USA) short talk on the development of an improved version of a tandem fluorescent timer with a larger dynamic range provided me with food for thought on how I could potentially utilise this tool to investigate protein turnover in vivo in my own research on the endoplasmic reticulum.
The ICAR schedule was intense but fortunately we managed to have a couple of days in Tokyo before the conference started to do some whirlwind sightseeing of this fascinating city! Having never travelled to Japan before I was amazed by what the city had to offer from micro-pig cafes to stunning sunset views of Tokyo and Mount Fuji from the 634m high Skytree, the tastiest sushi and gyozas and of course what trip would be complete without a night-time karaoke session with new potential collaborators we met at the conference!
University of Warwick