Actualia (engl.) · Conference Report

First Eduard Strasburger HOT TOPIC Workshop: It’s in your RNA

Conference Logo of DBG's first Strasburger HOT TOPIC Workshop.
The award for the best presentation by PhD students was the Golden pipette, sponsored by the Staiger lab, Bielefeld University. Photo: Marlene Reichel
Screenshot after the last presentation of DBG's Hot Topic workshop. Martin Lewinski, IT support

The inaugural Eduard Strasburger Hot Topic workshop featured the latest findings and trends in the field of plant RNA biology. The workshop was organized as online meeting by Dr. Marlene Reichel and Dr. Elisabeth Fitzek-Campbell, who are both postdocs at Bielefeld University. Besides invited keynote speakers, many junior researchers had the opportunity to present their work, exchange ideas and foster networks. Here, the organizers report about the winners of the prizes for best talks and how the attendees could experience Bielefeld without even being there in person.

The inaugural DBG Eduard Strasburger Hot Topic workshop focusing on plant RNA took place online on November 18th and19th, 2021. RNA not only mediates between DNA and protein, but also plays an active role in gene regulation. Therefore, RNA influences all aspects of plant life including development, reproduction and stress response. In recent years, the field of plant RNA biology progressed immensely with novel approaches paving the way for new discoveries. This workshop aimed to showcase emerging new techniques and novel findings in the areas of small RNAs, RNA structure and modifications, RNA-protein interactions, RNA processing, RNA sequencing technologies and transcriptional regulation.

More than 240 people from all over the world (including Australia, China, India, Europe, USA, Argentina and Brazil) registered for this event. Originally, we planned to host the workshop as a hybrid conference at Bielefeld University, however due to the increasing COVID-19 numbers, we moved it to online only.


Each session started with an invited speaker: in the first talk, Peter Brodersen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) described the sensing of viral RNA via the Dicer pathway. Yiliang Ding (John Innes, UK) talked about the role of RNA structure as a hidden regulator of gene expression. The afternoon session on RNA-protein interactions was introduced by Koen Geuten (KU Leuven, Belgium), who described different methodologies to successfully isolate RNA-bound proteins.

The second day of the workshop started with a talk by Gordon Simpson (University of Dundee, UK) depicting the power of Nanopore sequencing to infer alternative splice sites and RNA methylation. Sascha Laubinger (Oldenburg University, Germany) then introduced the different roles of U1 snRNP in Arabidopsis. The last session was opened by Romy Schmidt (Bielefeld University, Germany) describing the importance of transcriptional reprogramming during hypoxia and the last talk of the conference was conducted by François Parcy (CNRS, France) describing the evolution of the transcription factor LEAFY throughout the land plant lineage.

Awards for best talks by Early-Career Plant Scientists

An important aspect of the DBG Hot Topic workshop is to support and promote early-career scientists. Therefore, eight postdocs and eight PhD students presented their research. At the end of the meeting, participants could vote for their favorite talks with the winners receiving the Golden Pipette award and a 100 Euro cash prize (sponsored by the DBG). Laura Arribas-Hernandez (Brodersen lab, University of Copenhagen, Denmark) received the prize for best talk by a postdoc. Her work focuses on RNA methylation, a current hot topic in plant RNA research, and she presented her latest results on the “Principles of mRNA targeting and regulation via the Arabidopsis m6A-binding proteins ECT2 and ECT3”.

Varvara Dikaya and Nabila El Arbi (Schmid lab, Umeå Plant Science Center, Sweden) received the prize for best talk by PhD students. They jointly presented their work on “The role of PORCUPINE as a putative link between splicing and cold temperature signalling” in a very well-structured and entertaining way.  

Networking and Community Building

Since many conferences focus either on plant science in general, or on RNA biology across all kingdoms of life, we specifically wanted to organize a workshop tailor-made for the plant RNA community, which was met with great interest based on the number of participants. To facilitate more personal interactions and scientific exchange, participants had the chance to meet the speakers in dedicated break-out-rooms after the morning and afternoon sessions, respectively, which led to many interesting discussions.

Encountering Bielefeld while not being there

Furthermore, since the meeting could not take place in person, we started each session by briefly introducing one of Bielefeld’s landmarks (University, Sparrenburg, Teutoburger Forrest, Hermanns Run, Olderdissen Animal Park, Arminia football club, etc.). This could at least convey a virtual impression of the city and its surroundings and we received positive feedback from participants making the workshop more fun and personal.

Learnings behind the scene

It was a great experience to be behind the scenes of organizing a conference - from writing the proposal to inviting the speakers and session chairs, selecting talks from the abstracts and putting together the program. The funding from the DBG allowed us to create a professional website, design our own logo (by Sci-Illustrate), send out goodie bags to the invited speakers, and recognize the work of junior researchers by awarding prizes for best talks.
As the organizing team, we could focus on the topics that were most relevant for our own research. Furthermore, it was a great opportunity to make ourselves visible within the plant RNA community and strengthen our own networks.

We would like to thank all the speakers, session chairs, IT support and all participants for making this an exciting first Hot Topic workshop!


In December 2021
Dr. Marlene Reichel, Bielefeld University, RNA Biology and Molecular Physiology, Twitter: @marlene_reichel und Dr. Elisabeth Fitzek-Campbell, Bielefeld University, Computational Biology, Twitter: @EFitzek