What we thought of the 2013 International Worm Meeting

Every two years, researchers from all over the world that use worms as a model organism come together at UCLA for the International C. elegans meeting. This year several members of the Miller Lab made the trip down to LA for an awesome week of talking science, networking, and catching up on all the newest worm research tools. There was so much cool stuff to learn about it is hard to pick favorites, but read below to find out what Hannah and Emily thought was especially interesting this year:

Hannah Chapin, postdoc
As a newcomer to C. elegans it was eye-opening to be exposed to people studying such diverse aspects of the nematode’s existence.  From counting nematodes in rotting fruit (they live in the stems and flesh of very rotten apples, apparently) to studying the effects of parasites and infectious bacteria on nematode cells, the meeting gave me a context of the cells I study.  These are far from being cells in a petri dish, they’re cells in an organism with a complex and beautiful natural history.

I was intrigued by the presentation about the role of mitochondria in neurogeneration.  Randi Rawson from the Jorgensen Lab (abstract 72) described a way to force mitochondria out in to the axons of worms that otherwise have defective mitochondrial localization in neurons.  The presence of neurons was protective against degradation caused by severing the axon.  The dynein-based strategy for mitochondrial delivery was interesting, and raises questions about the effect that the presence – or absence of mitochondria – has on the surrounding cytoplasm.

An unexpectedly elegant presentation was given in the Cell Biology section by Shirin Bahmanyar (abstract 155).  Organelle identity is defined, in part, by the lipid composition of its membrane, but what determines lipid population is a more challenging question.  She described the localization of the enzyme that activates lipin-1 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=bahmanyar,%20s%20lipid&cmd), thereby allowing the nuclear envelope to contain a lower percentage of PI and a higher amount of PC/PE.

Also in the cell biology session was an interesting discussion of how intracellular intestinal parasites hijack the apical recycling machinery to facilitate spore release from the apical surface, thereby sending the spore on its way to complete the fecal/oral replication cycle. (Suzy Szumowski from Emily Troemel’s lab, abstract 157).

Emily Fawcett, MCB Graduate Student with her OWN BLOG!
After each conference I attend, I post the Top 5 Highlights from the meeting onto my science blog, From Behind the Scope. To continue with that format, in no particular order, here are my top 5 highlights of WORM2013!

#1: The hot topic: chromatin remodeling during stress!

I remain a bit partial to this topic, as it is the focus of my own research, but I was extremely excited to see so many fabulous talks and posters focusing on the relationship between chromatin remodeling and stress response! In particular, Christian Riedel from Gary Ruvkun’s lab demonstrated that the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex is required for DAF-16 (FOXO) gene-activation, and ultimately DAF-16 dependent longevity. This work was recently published in Nature Cell Biology and can be found here. Excitingly, David Fay also described a role for SWI/SNF in stress response, as a mediator of the ethanol and stress-response element (ESRE) pathway. These talks, along with multiple posters (including mine!), really begin to illustrate the critical requirement for chromatin remodeling in a multitude of stress response pathways.

#2: Transdifferentiation… is awesome.

As a trainee in developmental biology, and after recently listening to John Gordun discussing the challenges in transdifferentiation at ISDB2013, Joel Rothman’s talk blew me away. While Gordun’s talk emphasized how removal of chromatin marks specific to differentiated cells is one of the most difficult aspects of transdifferentiation, Rothman described a phenomenon in worms in which this process is not even necessary!  Expressing a single transcription factor, elt-7, resulted in the conversion of differentiated pharynx into endoderm, even in the absence of cell division. This talk was definitely one of the “THAT IS SO COOL” moments of WORM2013 for me.

#3: Memorable talks about teeth, exercise, and sex.

Based on the conference twitter feed and the chatter buzzing about the crowd, the next 3 talks were some of the most memorable, as well as the most unique! Mary Ann Royal of the Driscoll lab showed that 30 minutes of swimming a day results in increased pharyngeal pumping later in life, suggesting that “exercising” has health benefits even in worms! Eric Ragsdale  of the Sommer lab wowed the crowd with a gruesome video of P. pacificus chowing down on an unsuspecting C. elegans. His talk then went on to focus on the genetic control of a developmental teeth dimorphism in P. pacificus by a sulfatase encoded by eud-1. Finally, Cheng Shi of the Murphy lab pointed out a phenomenon we all felt we should have noticed previously: N2 worms shrink up to 30% after mating! These animals, in addition to a reduction in size, also are less attractive to other males, and live shorter lives. As male seminal fluid contributes to this phenomenon, it may represent an example of male influence on hermaphrodites to maximize their own reproductive success. Overall, Mary Ann, Eric, and Cheng definitely win the “most memorable” superlatives of WORM2013.

#4: Disease models in C. elegans!

As a scientist working in model organisms, I am always excited to hear about disease models in C. elegans, as it is a great way to study the genetic basis of human disease. Susana Garcia from the Ruvkun lab introduced a worm model designed to investigate the toxicity of CUG repeat-containing RNA, which is commonly associated with the human disease myotonic dystrophy. Garcia discovered that the nonsense mediated decay pathway normally functions to clear these toxic repeats, suggesting that it may be a good target for future myotonic dystrophy research.

Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy is due to mutation in the lamin protein. A.  Mattout from the Gasser lab demonstrated that this mutation, in worms, leads to failed tissue-specific release of heterochromatin and disrupted muscle function. By restoring chromatin organization through genetic manipulation, Mattout was able to fully rescue muscle function in these animals, suggesting that chromatin mislocalization may be of particular importance in human laminopathies.

#5: New insight into everyone’s favorite topic, insulin-like signaling!

It wouldn’t be a worm meeting without several dozen talks and posters about the FOXO transcription factor DAF-16. This year was no exception, but it was great to see some really remarkable new discoveries in a field that has garnered so much interest in the worm community! To highlight just a few, Adrianne Wolstenholme from the University of Bath demonstrated the discovery of the sole glutamate transporter in worms, FGT-1! Additionally, Ronald Tepper from the Bussemaker lab at Columbia gave a great talk on the identification of PQM-1, the main regulator of the class II growth and development genes originally thought to be directly activated by DAF-16.

As you can tell from the sheer number of talks I’ve mentioned, there was a huge amount of elegant science and interesting discoveries at WORM2013. Visit the meeting’s website for full abstracts and dates of future WORM events!

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