Bridging the gap between innate immunity and host-pathogen interactions, this brand new EMBO|EMBL Symposium, hosted on 26 – 29 June 2016 at EMBL Heidelberg, will be a platform for better understanding infectious disease. Nonia Pariente asked fellow organisers Felix Randow (FR),  Zhijian “James” Chen (CZ) and Wolf-Dietrich Hardt (WDH) a few questions about the meeting and why you should attend!


1. You are an organizer of the EMBO|EMBL symposium on Innate Immunity in Host Pathogen Interactions. The meeting attempts to bridge the two fields. What do you think are the challenges ahead?

FR: Innate Immunity and Host-Pathogen Interactions are really two sides of one coin. Knowledge is progressing so fast, and has become so detailed, that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with both sides. The two fields will therefore benefit from a meeting that specifically attempts to bridge the gap.

ZC: Pathogens are diverse and the host cellular pathways are complicated. There are lots of unique details in each microbe and each host signaling pathway. It is a daunting task for someone interested in a signaling pathway (e.g, NF-kB) to know all the interesting and unique viral proteins and life cycles of different viruses that take a virologist a lifetime to learn. Similarly, it is challenging for a virologist to know all the different signaling pathways and mechanisms (e.g, ubiquitination and phosphorylation) in the host cell. Close collaboration between immunologists and microbiologists is key to make discoveries that have broad and profound impacts. 

WDH: From the view point of an infection biologist, the next key challenges reside in deciphering the complexity of the microbe-interaction with the host's innate immune system in vivo. Initially animal models will be center stage. Deciphering such interactions from human patient data will be another huge challenge in the future.

2. Can you briefly describe your line of research? What drew you to this specific system?

FR: Cell-autonomous defense is the oldest form of immunity and sufficient to protect unicellular organisms against infection. In multicellular organisms specialized sets of professional immune cells have evolved, whose activities have received much attention. Comparably little is known about the ability of individual mammalian cells to defend themselves against infection. Guided by the importance of cell-autonomous immunity as the sole defender of unicellular organisms, we investigate how mammalian cells protect their interior against bacterial infection.

ZC: We are broadly interested in host defense and cell signaling. We have a long-standing interest in the role of ubiquitination in cell signaling and antiviral immunity, and our recent research is more focused on innate immune sensing and signaling of DNA and RNA in the cytoplasm. We were drawn to this because it is very important - recognition of DNA or RNA from microbial pathogens is a major mechanism by which the immune system detects infections after a pathogen has successfully breached the cellular membranes and entered the interior of the cells. These nucleic acid sensing pathways must also be tightly regulated, because inadvertent reactions to self DNA or RNA can cause autoimmune diseases such as lupus and arthritis. These pathways are also important for innate sensing of tumors and for the body’s intrinsic anti-tumor immunity. Microbial pathogens and tumors have also evolved mechanisms to evade the nucleic acid sensing pathways, offering rich opportunities to study host-pathogen (or tumor) interactions.

WDH: My laboratory is interested in infection biology. We are combining approaches from immunology, cellular microbiology and evolutionary biology to understand the pathogen-host interactions in Salmonella diarrhea.



3. There are several social activities in the programme outside the formal lectures to promote interactions between the participants, such as an afternoon walk in the woods and speed networking. In your experience, are such activities useful? What do you get out of them?

FR: Social activities are one of the most important aspects of scientific meetings. This is where you build your network, where you may make life-long scientific friends, and where you learn about otherwise hard-to-come-by details.

ZC: Great ideas often come from casual interactions among people with different expertise and working in different fields. Social activities provide a relaxed and fun environment that fosters these interactions. Science should be fun. 

WDH: New friends, interesting chats which you would not have otherwise and a good beer (or wine) afterwards.

4. What do you think researchers have to gain from attending this meeting?

FR: The answer very much depends on how far your career has progressed already. But for PhD students and postdocs a really important aspect is to meet the leaders of their fields and to scout out whose lab to join for the next step of their careers. Again, social activities are key here!

ZC: Attendees of this meeting will learn the latest advances in diverse but related research, all revolving around innate immunity and host pathogen interactions. They will be able to meet new colleagues and establish new collaborations. They will have fun while learning science.

WDH: This field is developing at an amazing pace. This is highly exciting as new research avenues are opening up almost on a daily basis. The meeting will therefore not only be a unique forum for discussing the future directions, but also a way to practically advance your own research.

Interested in attending? Sumbit your abstract by 11 April and we will see you in June!