19 Oct 2015 · Actualia (engl.) · Conference Gleanings

PhD School in Plant Development

Participants of the 8th International PhD School in Plant Development. Photo: PhD School 2015 (please click to enlarge)
The recipients of the talk and poster prizes. Rita A. Batista (left) and Anna Daneva (center) together with Professor Kay Schneitz who is a member of the organizing team. Photo: Sebastian Scholz (please click to enlarge)

Almost 50 young scientists and experienced experts met in German Retzbach-Zellingen from 7 – 9 October for the international School. The report names topics, methods, and focal points, tells who snatched poster and presentation prizes, and describes youngest science trends for example that interdisciplinary analyses in the study of plant development are becoming increasingly important. In his conference gleanings Professor Kay Schneitz describes what the young scientists, who were deriving from ten countries, gained from the meeting.

Since its inception in 2008 the „International PhD School in Plant Development“ remains the only meeting dedicated to plant development and provides a unique platform for young and senior scientists to meet and discuss recent advances in this exciting field. The conference exposes participants to the latest progress in a comprehensive array of topics of central importance in the field, ranging from vegetative and reproductive development to evo-devo aspects and from stem cell biology to systems biology and mathematical modeling of developmental processes.

Mainly young scientist present talks and chair sessions

Each of the ten sessions is introduced by a talk given by an internationally renowned senior scientist. PhD students and young postdocs, however, provide the majority of the oral presentations and also chair the sessions. As a relatively small meeting, and with its focus on plant development, it provides a truly unique opportunity for young scientists to present their work and to allow free exchange of scientific ideas between junior and senior people in a casual environment. In addition, the meeting enables young scientists to get into personal contact with potential postdoctoral advisors, thus also supporting career development. As a welcome side effect, the International PhD School in Plant Development serves to increase the visibility and attractiveness of Germany for young plant biologists.

This year 49 scientists participated in the conference. As in previous years the meeting was attended by a truly international audience of young researchers coming from a range of European countries including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK.

Issues and Topics

The conference covered a large area of the broad scientific spectrum represented by todays plant cell and developmental biology and it is impossible to single out a particular contribution. A central issue was how the combination of genetics, advanced imaging and computer modeling resulted in novel insight in embryo, root and leaf development. The often neglected role of programmed cell death in plant development was discussed as was the fertilization process and the epigenetic control of reproductive development. Moreover, recent data provide exciting new insights into how important regulatory pathways first unraveled in Arabidopsis, such as the control of flowering time, vary in different species including poplar or Arabis alpina.

Interdisziplinary approaches

The conference made once more clear that modern plant development rapidly evolves into a multi-disciplinary venture. To address their scientific problems modern developmental biologists need to be able to discuss and combine a variety of experimental approaches, ranging from advanced microscopy, such as live imaging using light-sheet microscopy, to computational morphodynamics and the generation of digital organ models, to mathematical modeling to unravel the logic of regulatory circuits, and to quantitative genetics methods that allow the identification of new factors involved in the developmental process of choice.

Prizes for young scientists

There were extensive scientific discussions after the talks or during the poster sessions. The average quality of the presentations by the young scientists was really impressive. When asked to select the best poster and oral presentation the young researchers choose the talk given by Rita A. Batista from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Uppsala and the poster presented by Anna Daneva from Ghent University. Rita revealed how auxin links fertilization and endosperm development in Arabidopsis while Anna discussed how senescence-induced cell death restricts silk receptivity in maize.

Conclusion and next meeting

Past and present success clearly reveals that this conference represents an acknowledged constant in the yearly meeting calendar, proving that the plant development community recognizes its unique qualities. Thus, the series will of course continue and next year the 9th International PhD School in Plant Development will again take place in Retzbach-Zellingen (5-7 October 2016). Mark the date!

Freising, in October 2015, Prof. Dr. Kay Schneitz, Entwicklungsbiologie der Pflanzen, TU München

The DBG has supported the attendance of the young scientists