In a city where bikes outnumber cars and even people, more than 900 scientists dodged bicycles as they picked their way to the conference center for the 2013 EMBO meeting in Amsterdam. Kai Simons, Director Emeritus and Research Group Leader of the Max Planck Institute-CBG in Dresden, opened the meeting last Saturday, September 21. His talk that extended his pioneering research on lipid rafts in eukaryotic cell membranes toward bacteria with a new class of proteins called hopanoids that stand in for sterols on bacterial "liquid-ordered" membranes. Membranes were the hot topic for later lectures by Tony Hyman, also from the MPI in Dresden, and Michael K. Rosen of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Recent work described by both speakers suggests that cell membrane biology could be entering a new phase.
From outside the cell membrane, Christopher McKay of NASA took EMBO attendees to outer space with a Sunday night lecture that held them visibly enthralled as he described his research on finding life on other planets, most recently with Mars Curiosity. McKay explained that while his NASA team looks for life on other planets, they are also working with Google to put Arabidopsis on the moon to see if it will grow.
Science careers were also on the program as ASCB Executive Director Stefano Bertuzzi challenged the grad students and research fellows
in his audience with a frank talk about the biomedical workforce pipeline and what students and institutions can do to advance their careers. Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission, shared her experiences in her novel position as in-house scientist to the EC leadership during stormy economic and political times.
EMBO was also about networking. Malgorzata Garstka, postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, demonstrated the potential. As an Amsterdammer, Garstka led a walking tour of her hometown for meeting attendees, which allowed her to connect with nearly 30 of the visiting scientists while taking them on a two-hour trek through seven neighborhoods. Along with hoards of bikes, Amsterdam seems to feature an Indonesian restaurant and a daycare center on every other corner.
On the sidewalk outside the conference center (and outside the busy bike lane), EMBO attendees feasted on mayonnaise-covered French fries and frosty Heinekens from food carts. Thus fortified, the attendees rushed off to mix art and science as they headed along the canals to grab a quick look at Amsterdam's justly renowned art museums.