I attended a Gordon research Conference entitled “Cellular and Molecular Fungal Biology” at the Holderness School in Holderness New Hampshire, June 29th -July 4th, 2008. The stated goal of the conference is to provide a forum for presentation of the latest advances in fungal research with a particular emphasis on filamentous and pathogenic fungi. The meeting brought together leading mycologists from around the world to discuss current research and future directions in fungal biology. A benefit to me was the ability to discuss my research on a less genetically tractable fungus, Coccidioides posadasii, with scientists working on model systems, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The small meeting environment was particularly beneficial for graduate students and postdocs, who often don’t get the opportunity to meet and have in depth discussions with leaders in the field at larger meetings, such as the American Society for Microbiology.
The first session focused on pathogen strategies for overcoming host defenses. A common theme was the similarity in signaling pathways among very distantly related fungi. The next session was concerned with cellular biology of fungi. An important aspect of this session was the unique ways that researchers are using microscopy to visualize cellular processes. The evening session was primarily focused on the interactions between the organism and the environment. Again, signaling plays a major role, and conservation among very distantly related groups shows the utility of model systems to begin to understand how fungi sense and respond to the environment. The next day, the focus was on how there is a fine line between the fungus as a pathogen, and the fungus as a symbiont. Often, the pathways are shared, as even a symbiont must overcome host defenses. The last session of the day was focused on the cell surface interface- the part of the fungus that contains unique molecules that are recognized by the host. The next day was focusing in the biochemistry of fungi- an area I am most unfamiliar with, so it was a great learning experience for me. The evening session was devoted to morphogenesis, an area that I am familiar with. It was interesting to hear that the switch from isotropic to polar growth is often associated with pathogenesis, as it is the opposite in my system. Finally, the last day was devoted to genomics. This was the best session for me, as it directly applied to my research. In addition, I was invited to present my research in the last session of the day, and my talk was well received. I interacted with many scientists over the course of the meeting, and have made permanent connections in the field of mycology.
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