Plant epigenetics: from mechanisms to ecological relevance

In a guest post for the New Phyt blog, winner of the 40th New Phytologist Symposium poster prize, Sofia van Moorsel, describes the highlights of the Symposium. Find out more about Sofia’s poster here.

The 40th New Phytologist Symposium on Plant epigenetics: from mechanisms to ecological relevance was held in Vienna from 12–15 September 2017. It started in a very promising way, with a delicious lunch in a special setting: the glasshouse of the botanical garden of the Institute of Botany and Biodiversity Research of the University of Vienna. There, between enjoying the plants and the food, we could hang up our posters. It was one of the best poster exhibits I have ever been to because all the posters were close together, of excellent quality, right next to food and drinks and the delegates were often found in discussions in front of posters, even if it wasn’t the dedicated poster session. This definitely stimulated the interactions among all the delegates.

The first day the symposium (check the hashtag #40NPS on Twitter for many insights and pictures!) was kicked off by Frank Johannes from the Technical University of Vienna. Frank gave a very inspiring presentation, in which he managed to convey his complicated message in a way all (most?) delegates could understand.

During the following two days, many invited experts in the field gave great presentations about their current research. In between, we had the chance to enjoy some selected talks from some of the poster presenters. These talks, even though they were shorter, were also of high quality and were met with great interest. To me, these shorter talks, which usually focused more on one research topic or experiment, were my personal highlights. For example, Jeannie Mounger (University of South Florida, Tampa) presented some first results of her study on two ecotypes of the foundation grass species Spartina alterniflora.

Many coffee breaks, most of them in beautiful sunshine, gave the delegates the chance to interact with each other and to meet one another, while the setting at the botanical garden allowed us to go for a stroll here and there.

The conference dinner took place at a ‘Heuriger’, a restaurant that serves the young wine from this year’s harvest. We did not, however, travel there by public transportation. No, we had a much fancier ride: a chartered tram! The tram drove us through the dark and stormy city, passed by many grand and imperial buildings and sites of great historic value and dropped us at the Heuriger. There, we had some of the fresh white wine and a large variety of typical Austrian dishes. And of course the discussions continued… way into the night!

This Symposium was really very inspiring and because of the limited number of delegates and the high quality of the talks – it was a fantastic experience, and I learned a lot.

Now, what remains for the field is the true integration of molecular mechanisms with ecological applications, while at the same time applying the best bioinformatics tools. The plant epigenetics research field will remain very important in the future and will for sure also grow. I hope that this Symposium managed to forge new collaborations, social ones and scientific ones. This time together in Vienna will certainly resonate with us for many years to come.

A great thanks to the organising committee and the New Phytologist Trust for this excellent meeting!

Sofia van Moorsel

Read the Meeting report: Heer, K., Mounger, J., Boquete, M. T., Richards, C. L. and Opgenoorth, L. (2018) The diversifying field of plant epigenetics. New Phytologist 217: 988–992. doi: 10.1111/nph.14985


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