By EMBL event reporter Trim Lajqi

Located between the Neckar river and the Odenwald forest, Heidelberg offers some impressive sights, including Heidelberg Castle, the Philosophers’ Walk, and the well-preserved baroque architecture of the Old Town. For scientists all over the world, Heidelberg is also defined by its high-level research institutions, including Heidelberg University, several Max Planck Institutes, the German Cancer Research Center, and EMBL.

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For researchers studying the innate immune response against pathogens, 24-27 June 2018 was an important time. These were the dates of the EMBO | EMBL Symposium, ‘Innate Immunity in Host-Pathogen Interactions’ (#EESImmunity). A mix of PhD students, postdocs, PIs, and other related researchers came to EMBL’s Heidelberg site to share the latest findings about bacterial defences against innate immunity.

The place was welcoming and the symposium was well organised, with everything happening in the right place at the right time. We knew immediately that our expectations would be surpassed. The EMBL organisers have developed an app with key information about the talks, other events during the symposium, poster abstracts, contact emails, and a social part where we could express our opinions about the event.

The first keynote lecture was given by Luke O’Neill from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. The data he presented gave new insights into the role of metabolism in immunity and inflammation, which might indicate new therapeutic approaches. His lab showed that metabolites from the Krebs cycle that are triggered by innate immune receptors can stimulate the production of pro- or anti-inflammatory cytokines.

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After the keynote lecture, the first session, ‘Sensing Pathogens’, started. New findings from many institutions were reported. Takashi Fujita presented results from his lab at Kyoto University, Japan, showing that gasdermin-positive microglia have increased capability for phagocytosis and decreased neurotrophic factors. Sun Hur from Harvard Medical School, US, showed for the first time how pathogen recognition receptors of the RIG family recognize viral dsRNAs and elicit the interferon response against viruses. Day 1 of the symposium was followed by a 1-hour speed networking session in which researchers had 5 minutes to explain their projects to each other. At the end of the day all the speakers and attendees were invited to enjoy food and drinks at the welcome reception.

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Everyone was so fascinated by the first day that they couldn’t wait to start the second. Session 2 was titled ‘Cell Biology of Infection’ and Session 3 was ‘Host-Pathogen Interactions I: Viruses and Bacteria’. Talks from Petr Broz from the Univeristy of Lausanne, Switzerland; Mihai Netea from Radboud University Medical Centre, Netherlands; Ivan Dikic from Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany; and many others impressed the attendees with novel findings from their research. The day closed with the first Poster Session, where scientists from all over the world shared their research on host response and innate immunity.

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Day 3 started with two other important and compelling sessions: ‘Host-Pathogen Interactions II: Fungi and Parasites’ and ‘Pathogen Defence Against Innate Immunity’. Bernhard Hube from the Hans Knöll Institute, Germany, and Neil Gow from the University of Aberdeen, UK, showed us that the cell wall of the yeast Candida albicans is dynamically changing, making it a complex process to be recognised by our immune system. In addition, Wolf-Dietrich Hardt from ETH Zürich, Switzerland, demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium has to make many adaptations to overcome the host defence and cause illness. Afterwards there was the second Poster Session, showcasing a variety of interesting findings.

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On the final day, some of the attendees were preparing to catch their planes while others wanted to enjoy one or two more days in the beautiful surroundings of Heidelberg. The only thing that nobody wanted to miss was the last session of the symposium, ‘Pathological Consequences of Inflammation’. It started with a talk by Yanick Crow from the University of Edinburgh, UK, who showed how nucleic acid drives interferon (INF) signalling (inflammation) and could be used in targeted therapies in future. An interesting talk by Anne O’Garra from The Francis Crick Institute, UK, showed that INF-gamma induction during Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection could be a detrimental factor in the outcome of the infection itself, a new area of research still ‘secret and magic’ but very impressive! The keynote lecture at the end of the meeting – by Pascale Cossart from the Institut Pasteur, France – was as remarkable as expected, with in-depth explanations of how the gut microbiome protects against many bacterial pathogens, and how listeria causes disease by manipulating the microbiota.

The symposium covered unique fascinating topics and provided refreshing and thought-provoking lectures. Attendees were very happy to be part of the event and showed great interest in attending future symposia at EMBL.

Social events between sessions, and dinners at the end of each day, were key elements of a great symposium. I can say without doubt that EMBL showed once again that it’s a truly great place for organising scientific events!

Thanks EMBL!

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