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The 10th European Zebrafish Meeting Report
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The 10th European Zebrafish Meeting Report

by Marina Venero Galanternik

The past month of July began by receiving the lively community of zebrafish researchers in the stunning city of Budapest in Hungary. Scientists from more than 30 different countries gathered at the Budapest Congress Center to be part of the largest fish conference of the year, the 10th European Zebrafish Meeting. This much-awaited conference showcased the most exciting current zebrafish related research, presented by undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and acclaimed principal investigators. The meeting made it clear that wherever a fish meeting takes place - North America, Asia or Europe - the zebrafish community is always welcoming, enthusiastic and characterized by its very open scientific predisposition. It only took a couple minutes into the meeting to start recognizing familiar friendly faces in the crowd gathering in the hallways. As we checked in to the meeting, we were greeted by the local students all wearing blue T-shirts with the statement: “Can I help you? I speak zebrafish”.   We were surprised and delighted by the original zebrafish-shaped USB keys we received with our meeting packages, containing all the meeting programs and abstract books. The meeting also featured an official meeting App containing schedules, last minute changes and announcements, and a novel five-star rating system for presented lectures.

The meeting began with morning sessions dedicated to husbandry advances and newly developed zebrafish resources available at ZIRC and the China Zebrafish Resource Center (CZRC), followed by a very enlightening education session where we learned from Kate Hammond and Claire Allen that science outreach through zebrafish can be a community based task, and we were immersed in cool modern App technology by learning to use the newly developed e-ZFbook App that all of the attendees immediately proceeded to download enthusiastically.

Excitement and a feeling of pride emanated from the organizers as they welcomed us to the first plenary session and reminded us that this meeting was also commemorating the 90th birthday of George Streisinger. Streisinger, a Hungarian native is regarded as the scientific mind behind the establishment of which is now one of the most used model organisms in scientific research - our favorite teleost, the zebrafish.  Monte Westerfield, a former college and friend of Streisinger, was the first keynote speaker. Westerfield, referring to Streisinger, started by reminding us all that “we are all here because of this man,” since Streisinger’s early work established many of the foundational genetic and experimental tools that spawned the whole field of zebrafish research. He went on to give an insightful lecture describing how his lab uses reverse genetics and CRISPR technology to uncover new zebrafish genes functions and model rare human disease conditions.

        The first day of the conference continued with exciting science topics that included a tissue formation and structure session where presenters told us about how RhoA affects the formation of the yolk syncytial layer in the early embryo, the role of Actin in apical interkinetic nuclear migration, fascinating photoconversion protocols and notochord sheath ossification. The evening was completed by the second keynote speaker, Elly Tanaka, who blew our minds with her exciting discoveries on the regenerative capacities of axolotls. These adorable-looking salamanders can regrow complete anatomical structures, making them a great vertebrate model to study regeneration. Focusing mainly on limb regeneration, Tanaka beautifully showed why axolotls are such a powerful model, amenable not only to classic embryology manipulations, but also modern technologies such as CRISPRs and transgenesis.

        The evening continued with the official welcoming reception, where all participants had their first taste of the impressive Hungarian cuisine and their diverse beer and wine selection. The venue hallways filled with enthusiastic laughs and “cheers” as we all greeted each other and made new friends. If anyone learned a new Hungarian word it was “köszönöm” to thank the friendly servers, who taught us that the local Soproni should be our new beer of choice. During meeting breaks, a common factor among the younger attendees was to constantly check on the meeting’s App for schedules of talks as well as to give the respective ratings to each one of them, making it customary to hear “How many stars did they get?” during breakfast and coffee breaks.

        The second day brought us three sessions on disease models highlighting the power of zebrafish as a model for medical research.  Advances in genetics, genomics, and molecular biology are making possible the generation and analyses of new zebrafish mutants that recapitulate human diseases ranging from rare syndromes like Dravet and Saethre-Chotzen, sugar-related metabolic conditions like galactosemia and hyperglycemia, light inducible epilepsy and neurodegenerative conditions among others. Interestingly, during these sessions, a common note was to hear the presenters thanking other colleagues for sharing reagents and protocols with them, once again proving that the zebrafish scientists are an open and collaborative scientific community.  This feature is a strong component attracting young researchers. Nothing better than a “we can discuss this later” at the end of your Q&A time, and being approached directly by senior scientists who offer their expert advice, tool or fish line, right after your presentation! The day continued with two stem cell sessions and one patterning and one neurobiology sessions. The Patterning I session chaired by Mary Mullins covered important topics like Nodal-dependent activation of Sox32 in early endoderm specification, dorsal diencephalon habenular asymmetry control by the transmembrane CachD1, Delta/Notch signaling role in polarity establishment of the spinal cord and how the chromatin factor Gon4l regulates embryonic axis extension in the ugly duckling mutant. Concurrently, the Stem Cells I session presented hematopoiesis related topics like the role pf TGFb in the hemogenic endothelium and how the sclerotome specifies the HSPC niche. We also learned about the role of BMP signaling in relieving cardiomyocyte stress during heart regeneration, and, on the neural side, how Notch3 controls stem cell homeostasis of the pallium and Sox2 regulation of Müller glia reprogramming in the retina. After the generous and extremely delicious lunch, everyone headed to the second floor for the first poster session which comprised topics related to chemical biology, disease modeling, genomics, neurobiology, stem cells, husbandry and education.

        Another special event occurred on the evening of day two, when the International Zebrafish Society (IZFS) presented the second George Streisinger award to the amazing Nobel prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, called Janni by her close friends and peers.  Although Janni could not attend, the award was presented by Michael Brand, a former member of her lab, who highlighted the incredible scientific spirit and strong mentoring attributes that Janni has demonstrated throughout her years in academia.  He reminded us of Janni’s many contributions to the zebrafish community, pointing out how until this day, many of us are still using the mutants that came out from her 1996 mutagenesis screen, which she always shared openly. Click here to read more from Michael Brand about the Streisinger award presentation. The IZFS award presentations continued with the Chi-Bin Chien award, given to Marc Wolman. Like many of us inspired by Chi-Bin, Wolman remembered his first interaction with Chi-Bin back in 2002, when he was a brand-new graduate student apologetically presenting a poster with a very confusing phenotype.  Upon hearing about his results, Chi-Bin commented loudly that “Unexpected phenotypes can be the most interesting!”. In his award lecture Wolman went on to give the participants a fantastic presentation on the roles of the extracellular metalloprotease PAPP-AA (pregnancy-associated plasma protein-aa) functions during photoreceptor synaptogenesis and its implication in behavior.  Click here to read more about the Chi-Bin Chien award presentation.

        By the third day, the atmosphere radiated friendly enthusiasm and camaraderie as attendees started gathering for the first plenary session on Organogenesis, chaired by Didier Stainier. The talks included new insights on the roles of GATA transcription factors after CRISPR mutant generation, the development of modified Stabilin-receptor nanoparticles that are specifically uptaken by scavenger endothelial cells, a single cell analysis on Insulin producing cells, blood flow and Notch signaling requirements for pericyte recruitment to arteries, how TDP43 control of Fibronectin and Integrin a4/b1 affects angiogenesis, and the newly uncovered role of neural crest cells in the induction of HSPC specification. For the last presentation, Wilson Clemens started his talk by taking a stage selfie of himself with the attendees in the background. The morning continued with the second session on Organogenesis, Patterning and Cancer, followed by the second poster session focused on behavior, cancer, new technologies, evolution, infectious diseases, cardiovascular system, neural development, signaling and toxicology.

        The afternoon sessions focused on cardiovascular topics including newly discovered perivascular brain cells, angiogenesis and heart development. The concurrent immunity session reported that the Sindbis and Chikungunya viruses use different entries of infection in the zebrafish and described the mechanisms employed by Mycobacterium to cross the blood-brain barrier. The reproductive and evolutionary biology session covered both zebrafish and medaka research, where mir-202 knockout causes female infertility and ZRS deletion affects cis-regulation that results in defects in appendages.

        The evening brought a new celebration as Uwe Strähle and Stefan Schulte-Merker introduced the winner of the first Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard award, Didier Stainier, in recognition to his outstanding achievements in and for zebrafish research. Didier started his acceptance speech by taking us through his 30-year-old journey studying the development of various zebrafish endoderm-derived organs.  He reminded us of dark times when zebrafish research was strongly discouraged by grant reviewing panels, who stated that tasks such as positional cloning were implausible in the fish. He continued by recollecting some of his most memorable findings, such as when he and colleagues published the endothelium and hematopoietic-defective cloche mutant, and the cloning of wnt2bb from the liver mutant Prometheus, cloned and characterized by Elke Ober in 2006.

        The morning of the fourth day brought two emerging technology sessions full of exciting advances like single-cell analysis for cell specification and lineage showing how we can now barcode specific cells and map them back to anatomical structures in the embryo and how an innovative bio-tagging system revealed a role for non-coding regulatory RNAs in migratory neural crest cells. We also heard how ATAC-seq analysis on anterior and posterior regions of Scl-GFP embryos identified regulatory programs involved in vascular and hematopoietic progenitors, and how a morpholino-based tagging of miR-430 allows for in vivo detection of native zygotic transcription. In the concurrent signaling session a new NFkB reporter line was introduced as a tool to study induced inflammation as a response to infection and how FGF signaling at the leading edge of the brain parapineal organ, promoted its collective cell migration. The morning concluded with the biology and aquaculture session where we heard about the effect that high temperatures and densities have on sex rations in zebrafish, and following studies on other teleosts.  We also learned about the African killifish, which is becoming a model for aging studies due to its fast and short life span.

        After the afternoon sessions on toxicology, tissue dynamics and behavior, we had our last coffee break before heading to the Patria Hall to hear the last keynote speaker, Jean Paul Vincent. Vincent presented his work on the various Wnt signaling targets in the Drosophila imaginal wing disk. He followed by describing Notum, classically known as a secreted enzyme thought to inhibit Wnt signaling by directly cleaving Glypicans by their GPI anchor. Interestingly, Vincent showed biochemically, genetically and by crystallography that, although Notum requires Glypicans for function, the mechanism by which Notum inhibits Wnt signaling is not by Glypican cleavage, but by direct degradation of the Wnt ligands lipid moiety, making them incapable of Wnt receptor interactions.

        After four days of exciting science and social interactions, the local organizing committee thanked everyone who participated in the successful organization of this conference.  Before officially ending the meeting, the next European’s meeting location was announced to take place in Prague, Czech Republic in 2020 and a challenge to beat the awesome zebrafish-shaped USB was accepted. After a prolonged ovation from all attendees present in the hall, we all proceeded to get ready for the highly-anticipated banquet & dinner on a boat by the Danube. As we boarded the “Europa,” a fancy river cruise boat, we were all greeted with a glass of champagne or beer and taken to our tables. The night continued as a celebration of all the great days we had just spent in this beautiful city, that at night becomes even more magical with the city yellow lights illuminating the Hungarian Parliament building, the Buda Castle, and the Chain Bridge, all reflecting on the calm waters of the Danube. All of this and the great company of our fellow scientists made this meeting an unforgettable experience!

 


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