Highlights from the EMBL Symposium 'Cellular Mechanisms Driven by Phase Separation'

The event was packed with enlightening talks and discussions on the complexities of phase separation, revealing unique insights into the microenvironments of condensates.

Published on
March 8, 2023
An abstract visualisation of the inner filter effect.
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A Week of Insight and Discovery

We have returned from the 2024 EMBL Symposium on Cellular Mechanisms Driven by Phase Separation in Heidelberg, feeling excited, exhausted, and enlightened. It was an intense week filled with fascinating talks and engaging discussions set against the scenic backdrop of the Odenwald mountains.

During our stay, we also took the opportunity to explore the historic city of Heidelberg, with its beautiful Old Town, castle ruins, and the fantastic views from the Königstuhl summit.

A spectacular view over the historic city from Heidelberg Castle
A spectacular view over the historic city from Heidelberg Castle

Unraveling the Complexities of Phase Separation

We attended the conference with high expectations about learning more about condensates and phase separation. However, the depth and breadth of new insights shared by experts in this rapidly evolving field far exceeded our expectations.

One important theme that emerged was the striking differences between the interior of condensates and their surrounding dilute phase. This showed up already during the initial keynote talk by Rohit Pappu and was expanded upon by various speakers and poster presenters throughout the event.

Condensates are not only defined by a change in protein concentration, but the influence of the macromolecules will also lead to a difference in the concentration of small molecules and ions. This in turn means that every type of condensate will have a unique micro environment, with a specific pH, salt concentration, and so on. As Ankush Garg showed in her poster, even the concentration of oxygen can vary between the dense and dilute phase. Ankush and her poster won the Poster prize—congratulations!

Several presentations and posters also revealed that additional phase separation can occur within the dense phase, creating droplets within droplets. The sense of discovery at the event reflected the dynamic and multifaceted nature of this growing field, much like the molecular complexes it studies.

Ankush Garg in front of her winning poster 'Oxygen partitioning into biomolecular condensates is governed by excluded volume'.

"Win a Labbot" Competition Returns

Last year, at the FASEB Protein Aggregation Conference in Malahide, we held a special competition. Conference participants were invited to submit a short description of a research project in which they would use a Labbot, and the winning submission would be awarded with a free Labbot. (Earlier this year we delivered a Labbot to the past winner, Danny Hatters, in Melbourne)

Thom announcing the WIn a Labbot competition on stage.

This year, we decided to repeat the format at the EMBL conference. Once again, we were amazed by the well-thought-out and exciting project proposals submitted by over two dozen scientists. Even though there could be only one winner, we truly hope that all of these research projects will eventually happen.

Sina Wittman sent in the winning proposal and secured a Labbot for her newly started lab at the Institute of Molecular Biology in Mainz. Sinas proposal described a fascinating project, exploring the role of intrinsic disorder and phase separation in the regulation of gene transcription. She is planning to use the Labbot to systematically map out phase diagrams of several key proteins, forming a solid basis for continued exploration.

We are looking forward to setting up the Labbot in her lab, and to the cool experiments that will follow!

A smiling winner; Sina Wittman sent in the winning proposal and will soon have a Labbot up and running in her lab.

Reflecting on a Successful Symposium

Overall, our time at the EMBL Symposium was incredibly rewarding. We gained valuable insights and connected with brilliant pioneers in the field. We’re excited about the prospect of visiting some of these researchers in their labs and hope to return to Heidelberg soon.

The Labbot Blog

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