We were pleased to welcome over 180 researches from 14 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Jordan, Sweden, UK and USA came to Liverpool to participate in the British Biophysical Society biennial meeting on 6-8 July 2016; more than half of them were young investigators and PhD students. The meeting brought together PhD students, PDRAs and many international leaders in the field of structural biology, synchrotron radiation, drug discovery, cell biology, enzymology, synthetic biology, computational biology and medicine to share their views and promote discussion on ‘New horizons and emerging biomedical challenges for Biophysics’, which helped to create an outstanding agenda.
In the opening plenary lecture, Richard Henderson discussed recent advances and remaining barriers in single particle Electron Microscopy (EM). The sessions were then divided into two parallel streams. In the Cryo EM and X-ray Lasers stream, Sriram Subramaniam (NIH, USA) described the extension of EM applications to tomography and near-atomic resolution structures of macromolecules and how these are being used for drug discovery, followed by an insightful presentation by Shawn Rawson, a PhD student from Leeds, on the use of cryo-EM platform for drug design. Applications of XFEL and microfocus beamlines at the Japanese SACLA X-ray laser facility and the Spring-8 synchrotron were covered by Masaki Yamamoto (RIKEN, Japan); Helen Ginn, a PhD student from Oxford, gave an overview of some X-ray free electron laser applications as well as some sophisticated data processing approaches. In the parallel stream called NMR of Proteins and Cells, the leading NMR expert and Director of one of the INSTRUCT centres, Lucia Banci (Florence, Italy) described exciting experiments using in-cell NMR to probe the movement and use of metal ions in living cells. Sheena Radford (Leeds) showed us how she has applied unfolding techniques to find intermediates in important amyloid formation pathways.
Following the coffee break, the streams were Ion Channels and Transporters, and Molecular Recognition. Streams were synchronised thanks to the efficient chairs of the sessions so that delegates could switch between the streams. The Channels and Transporters stream was opened by an excellent talk by Sir Munir Pirmohamed (Liverpool) on drug toxicity and the importance of knowing transporters variability in patients in order to prevent drug’s adverse reactions. The stream on Molecular Recognition was opened with an equally nice talk by Chris Schofield. Both streams gave opportunities for established speakers, Liz Carpenter (Oxford) and Richard Garratt (Brazil) and young scientists, Lorna Smith (Oxford) and Jianshu Dong (Liverpool) to present their latest work. The scientific session of the day concluded with a flash poster presentation from five poster presenters, each of seven minutes duration. This was highly successful. Delegates were then able to mix late in the evening over a hot buffet dinner and drinks while taking the time to look at the sixty two posters that were on display throughout the meeting.
Prof. Toshihide Yamashita (Osaka) opened the second day with a plenary lecture presenting an overview of clinical and biochemical investigations in “Targetting a cure for paralysis”, which examined the recovery of the nervous system from injury and his latest research findings, which focus on molecular mechanism of neuronal rewiring regulation under neuronal injures and neurodegenerative disorders. He provided evidence of how the injured nervous system could be helped to restore. His talk had direct implications for a number of neurodegenerative diseases. There followed parallel sessions on Neurodegeneration and Ageing and Advances in Computational Biophysics. In the first stream Liverpool’s Malcolm Jackson showed us how neuromuscular junctions change in his models of the ageing process, and Gareth Wright showed a faulty interaction between SOD1 and its copper chaperone may be partly responsible for motor neuron disease. The Computational Biophysics stream featured Richard Strange (Essex), Lynn Kamerlin (Uppsala) among others. After the coffee break the delegates were offered two parallel streams, one on Single Cell Biophysics, and the other on Biophysics in Human Diseases. Violaine See (Liverpool) and Mike White (Manchester) provided the latest advances and some beautiful examples of imaging applications to complex important systems. In the second stream Stefan Marklund (Umeå, Sweden) explained how one protein aggregates in different ways in motor neuron disease and Jose Mato (Spain) showed how MAT enzymes were involved in liver disease function and highlighted some of the unanswered questions in view of the recent high resolution structure of the MAT enzyme complexes.
The afternoon’s plenary lecture was given by Jim Haseloff (Cambridge) on “Engineering of physico-genetic living systems”, which was followed by parallel streams on Metals in Biology, and Enzymes and Organism: synthetic biology, and later streams on Biological Soft Matter and Catalysis. Nigel Robinson’s talk was a clear highlight of the Metals in Biology stream where we learnt how many toxic metals are handled by biology, ensuring that all of the essential metals are utilized efficiently.
The highly-enjoyable gala dinner, closing the second day, was served in The Crypt Hall of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Sir Tom Blundell welcomed the delegates to the Gala dinner and highlighted some of the excitement of the conference as well as the central importance of these Biennial Biophysics conference which provide a clear focus to the community. The Guest of Honour was Louise Ellman, MP for the local constituency of Liverpool, Riverside and Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Transport. She noted the importance of regional, national and international cooperation in scientific advances. She spoke to us about the importance of communicating the importance of our scientific work to the general public. Anthony Watts (Oxford), Chair of the British Biophysical Society, also spoke to thank the organisers and announced the winner of the BBS 2016 Young Investigator’s Medal. Sir Tom Blundell, as an honorary member of the BBS, presented the medal to Adam Perriman (Bristol).
With more than 50 excellent posters to choose from, competition for poster prizes was stiff. The IUCr awarded prizes to Ewan Ramsay (Manchester) for the poster “The Structure of the Human Retinal Protein Retinoschisin and Analysis of Disease-causing Mutations” and Nordine Helassa (Liverpool) for the poster “Dystonia-causing mutations in hippocalcin show olgimerisation defect and translocation impairment” and book prizes, kindly donated by the CSC Press, were awarded to Liyana Binti Azmi for her poster “The Mystery of AdhE“. BBS poster prizes went to Florian Stroel (Cambridge) for the poster “dSTORM superresolution imaging to study the role of endogenous alpha-synuclein” and Didi He (Edinburgh) for “How do bacterial nanocompartments store iron?” and Juan Francisco Bada Juarez (Oxford) for his poster “Lipodisk tm: a new tool for structural biology and drug discovery”.
This being Liverpool, the Beatles had to feature somehow, so the dinner was followed by lively dancing to the music of the Mersey Beatles, an accomplished Beatles look-alike and sound-alike band.
The third and final day featured the themes of Drug Discovery and Membrane Proteins and Complexes and three outstanding plenary lectures. Sir Tom Blundell (Cambridge) opened the day with his talk “Fighting Drug Resistance in Cancer and Infectious Diseases: how Biophysics can contribute”. The Drug Discovery stream featured Paul O’Neil and Ben Bax among others while the Membrane Proteins and Complexes stream had highlights from James Naismith and Yvonne Jones. The conference closed with two plenary talks. Adam Perriman, the young scientist BBS award winner gave a talk on “A life less aquatic – structure, function and dynamics in solvent-free liquid proteins”. The final plenary talk was given by Gregory Petsko (Weill Cornell Medical College) in characteristic highly communicative style. He talked on “New Therapeutics for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases Using Structure-Guided Approaches” and kept the audience captive for the whole hour.
We are very grateful to our sponsors and exhibitors: Astex Therapeutics, the Biochemical Society, Bruker, Dectris, FEI, the International Union of Crystallography, Molecular Dimensions, NanoTemper Technologies, Oxford Cryosystems, Oxford NanoImaging and Rigaku, for helping to make the meeting a memorable event.