INDEPTH Main Meeting in El Escorial

Monday, 23 December 2019


The Main meeting for the third grant period of COST Action 16212 (INDEPTH) needed to be held between May 2019 and April 2020. Therefore in order to coincide with an opportunity provided by the Society of Experimental Biology (SEB) Plant and Cell Symposium, the organising committee decided to hold the meeting in December 2019 in the beautiful location of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Spain.

This town is an hour outside Madrid and is dominated by the magnificent Monasterio del Escorial, built in the 16thCentury on the instructions of King Philip II of Spain. The meeting was held in an adjacent Real Centro Universitario Escorial-María Cristina college but meeting delegates were fortunate to take a tour of the monastery on a free afternoon. SEB provided both finance and organisational support for the meeting, which allowed the invitation of an international selection of world-leading scientists.

SEBINDEPTH33 In total 100 delegates attended the meeting for which the program included two keynote talks, six plenary sessions and an industry workshop, which was organized by Dragana Miladinovic.

The full schedule and abstracts can be downloaded here.

INDEPTH were delighted and honoured that the opening Keynote was provided by Wendy Bickmore, who is the Director of the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh. As a leading authority on the organisation of the human nucleus it was fascinating to hear her perspective on the state of the field. She presented recent work from her lab that highlighted the importance of a nuclear heterochromatin exclusion zone that surrounds the nuclear pore complex. The functional significance of this sub-nuclear domain is largely unknown, especially in plants. Hopefully Professor Bickmore’s talk will inspire some research in this area amongst INDEPTH members.

Session I on Emerging Functions of Chromatin Domains was kicked off by Adam Klosin who works with Tony Hyman in the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. He introduced the importance of sub-nucleus liquid-liquid phase separations for the segregation of nuclear domains: think Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. This research area had relevance to INDEPTH members since control of transcriptional regulation by phase separation in Arabidopsis is emerging as a possible major control mechanism (Fang et al, 2019, doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1165-8).

This meeting provided plenty of opportunities for younger scientists to present their research as a plenary, short talk or a poster. Indeed as part of Session 1 Emilia Cepowska from the I nstitute of Biochemistry and Biophysics Polish Academy of Sciences gave her inaugural conference talk where she presented her research from her Masters project that looked at how gene loops and the NPC could affect transcriptional memory.

Following Session I, nineteen delegates introduced their posters in a series of immaculately timed two-minute talks! The antibody company Agrisera generously sponsored a poster prize that was voted on by meeting delegates. The very worthy winner was Anis Meschichi from Stefanie Rosa’s lab in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with poster entitled ‘Characterizing chromatin mobility and histone dynamics during DNA damage responses ’.


Session II was titled ‘ROLE OF HISTONE VARIANTS AND MODIFICATIONS IN CONTROL OF CHROMATIN DYNAMICS’, which included some of the huge number of ways through which histone epigenetic marks can alter plantgrowthanddevelopment.Fornon-experts it remains remarkable to learn how such small changes in the sequences of core histones can have much large phenotypic changes! Xuehua Zhong from the University of Wisconsin at Madison presented some preliminary studies in which her lab is attempting to understand how the cellular machinery that controls DNA methylation is altered by environmental UV radiation. The Zhong lab is collaborating with colleagues on the Tibetan plateau to investigate some uncharacterized Arabidopsis accessions that grow at high altitude. It will be exciting to understand the genomic changes that underpin how these plants are able to survive under high levels of UV radiation.

The long opening day concluded with Session III: IMPORTANCE OF CHROMATIN DYNAMICS DURING PLANT REPRODUCTION. The opening talk was provided by Arp Schnittger from Hamburg who introduced his labs ‘overnight success’ of their live imaging of floral development….. using a technique that has taken them at least three years to develop :) SEBINDEPTH-Gif

Throughout the meeting it was fantastic that many of the speakers presented unpublished data. In Session III INDEPTH Vice-Chair Celia Baroux showed some preliminary data generated the previous week, in which her lab are investigating a potential role for citrullation to control the activity of Histone H1.

After an intense first, the second day was a little more relaxed as it included the industry workshop, the monastery tour and the tasty conference dinner! However there were also two excellent scientific sessions! Session IV on TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES FOR CHARACTERISATION OF CHROMATIN DOMAINS included a great introduction from Anika Erxleben (University of Freiburg) to the European Galaxy Server, which is an collection of open research and training resources to help life science researchers. Also in this session David Evans introduced facilities and expertise at the Oxford Brookes bioimaging centre, where they are looking to understand the functional relevance of the molecular interactions that span the nuclear envelope.

The day two evening Session V was titled ‘INFLUENCE OF NUCLEAR DOMAINS ON GENE EXPRESSION’ in which both Moussa Benhamed (Saclay Plant Science) and Han-Wilhelm Nutzmann (University of Bath) discussed their work on the analyses of three-dimensional chromosome architectures across different plant species. This research allows to us to begin to understand which chromatin domains physically interact and how these interactions influence their function. Tzvetina Brumbarova from Heinrich Heine University in Germany also gave an intriguing talk in Session IV in which she explained her groups research that investigates how transcriptional regulation is linked to both light signaling and nutrient uptake of iron.


The final day began with the second Keynote provided by Nils Stein (IPk Gatersleben) who gave an overview of his involvement with the barley and wheat pan-genome projects. He showed that the current reference wheat genome from Chinese Spring is a real genomic outliner. Therefore obtaining an understanding of a wider set of genomes will surely unlock functional diversity to aid with future breeding projects. SEBINDEPTH43

Current GARNet chairperson Steven Spoel was an invited speaker for Session VI: ROLE OF CHROMATIN DOMAINS IN RESPONSE TO BIOTIC AND ABIOTIC STRESSES. The Spoel lab looks at the role of the NPR1 protein as a key regulator of the defence response and he provided some new data on how NPR1 might interact with CULLIN3 and as such function as a possible E3 ligase. This further adds to the evidence that NPR1 is a major molecular component within a key regulatory module that is involved in the defence response.

This report has barely skimmed the surface of the outstanding science that was presented throughout this meeting so I would urge anyone who is interested to take a look at the abstract book. One unfortunately downer for the meeting was that it was targeted by a seemingly professional criminal operation that resulted in three laptops being stolen from the conference room. This happened during a break when there were a number of delegates remaining in the conference room. Enormous commiserations to those delegates who were impacted by this theft; there is little doubt it was a very unfortunate incident.

Overall the meeting provided a fantastic forum for INDEPTH-supported delegates to mix with invited speakers and other meeting participants. Hopefully some future collaborations will result from discussions a the meeting. Thanks to INDEPTH, SEB and the Agrisera for their support!