As part of its mission to encourage engagement within the genetics community, PLOS Genetics is sponsoring a number of conferences and meetings this year. In order to raise awareness about these conferences and the researchers who attend them we will be featuring a number of these conferences on Biologue, with posts written by the organisers or PLOS Genetics editors who are involved. The first of these conferences is the European Conference on Fungal Genetics, which takes place in Seville between the 23rd and 27th of March. We hear from Luis Corrochano and Joe Heitman, PLOS Genetics Associate Editor, about their involvement in the conference, and the aspects of fungal genetics that they find exciting.
I am Joe Heitman, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Our research focuses on fungi, both as causes of infectious disease and as models for questions of general biological interest and importance. Much of our efforts focus on the evolution of sex determination and sexual reproduction, and the impact of a novel type of selfing, unisexual reproduction, on the population structure and biology of microbial pathogens.
The European Congress on Fungal Genetics (ECFG12) is the latest in a long running series of highly successful and impactful meetings that bring together an international cadre of investigators interested in the genetics of fungi. This spans model organisms, pathogens of humans and plants, both yeasts and filamentous fungi, and a diversity of organisms, phyla and scientific questions and approaches.
Luis Corrochano is one of the two co-organizers for the meeting. He and I are colleagues, friends, and for the past almost ten years, collaborators.
Our collaboration started with a former fellow in the lab, Alex Idnurm, now an associate professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. At that time Alex was a fellow in my lab investigation the molecular basis for light sensing in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. As a side project, he had begun to investigate candidate light sensing machinery in the zygomycete Phycomyces blakesleeanus. Luis is the community organizer for the Phycomyces genome project, and an expert on light sensing in fungi, and we contacted him for assistance with our project. That launched a collaboration that resulted in two landmark publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that were featured on the cover. Luis and Alex continue to collaborate to identify other novel light sensing components and pathways in this model for fungal sensory perception.
Fungi are the closest relatives to animals. Despite their differences in shapes and sizes, fungi and animals are evolutionary related and share many basic molecular and cellular features. Several fungi are used as models for eukaryotic biology (for example the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae), but fungi are also investigated and characterized for their use in the biotechnological industry as producers of food and drinks (wines, beers, cheese, bread), and because we like to eat them (mushrooms, for example). In addition, fungi grow on plants and animals, causing diseases that can wipe out entire crops or kill animals, including us.
Scientists interested in the use of fungi as experimental organisms get together every year on either side of the Atlantic. The Fungal Genetics Conferences and the European Fungal Genetics Conferences are held every other year in Asilomar (California, USA) or in a European country to discuss recent discoveries on fungal biology, including genetics, genomics, biotechnology and pathogenesis. The 12th European Conference on Fungal Genetics will take place in Seville (Spain) in a few days (March 23-27) and will gather more than 700 participants from academia and industries from 40 countries. The conference includes plenary sessions and concurrent sessions, and two poster sessions for informal discussions. We anticipate that attendants will describe and discuss recent discoveries on fungal genomics, cell biology, pathogenesis and biotechnology.
I usually prefer attending small conferences, as large conferences like ECFG include too many lectures, often at the same time. On the other hand, large conferences offer the opportunity to meet with my peers, and with the colleagues with whom I collaborate. Modern molecular biology often requires collaboration among different labs that can share their expertise, and large meetings like ECFGs provide the opportunity to meet and share results, and discuss new collaborations. More often, the interesting part of these conferences takes place behind the scenes, with scientists sharing results and discussing their recent results during lunches, poster sessions, or coffee breaks.
We hope that attendants will return home with new ideas, new contacts, new friends, and the burning desire to go back to the bench to try new experiments. If they do so, then ECFG12 will be a success and will compensate all the effort that we have dedicated to the organization of the conference.