Newswise — Cell Bio Virtual 2020–An Online ASCB|EMBO Meeting came into being when the global pandemic forced ASCB and EMBO to move their traditional annual meeting fully online. But the meeting planners say they had hoped for an online component to the meeting from the outset. Greater access to a broader audience was, in fact, what Program Committee Co-Chairs Rebecca Heald and Buzz Baum intended all along in putting this meeting together.

“The meeting is special this year because it is virtual,” said Heald, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. “While this has brought with it many challenges, it also provides us with a great opportunity to make the ASCB|EMBO meeting even more inclusive. We very much hope that this year’s meeting will bring together the cell biology community from right across the world.”

The topics in each Symposium, Minisymposium, and poster will, of course, span the full breadth of cell biology, Heald and Baum reported.

“However, beginning with our Keynote speaker, there will be a special emphasis on evolution,” added Baum, a Group Leader in the Cell Biology Division at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. “There are also two special sessions on SARS-CoV-2.”

A COVID-19 Special Interest Subgroup occurs Wednesday, December 9, from 1:45–3:45 pm ET and a special COVID session will be presented on Thursday, December 10, from 1:15–2:15 pm ET.

“These special sessions will highlight how rapidly the community has been able to progress in understanding the cell biology of the virus as it interacts with human cells, and how researchers plan to apply this knowledge to help tackle COVID-19,” they remarked.

You can read more about the evolution of the Program Committee’s philosophy in planning Cell Bio Virtual 2020 in Heald’s and Baum’s guest President’s Column in this issue of the ASCB Newsletter (p. 5). Programming occurs December 2–16, with educational and professional development content planned for December 2–4; scientific sessions, exhibitor talks, and roundtables happening December 7–11; and live poster presentations occurring December 14–16. All posters will be available to view from December 2–January 15. Most sessions will be available to view on demand until January 15. Because of this format, ambitious participants can attend many more sessions and events than they ever could in a live setting.

Education and Professional Development Sessions

With an online format and the ability to watch sessions after they’ve happened, including sending questions to the presenters, ASCB meeting organizers chose to schedule education and professional development (EPD) sessions for the first few days of Cell Bio Virtual 2020. Organized by ASCB members, the EPD sessions focus on topics related to the scientific enterprise such as education, career development, international relations, science policy, communications, and diversity in the scientific workforce. The Education Minisymposium, “Teaching Excellence Amidst Uncertainty,” will be held Wednesday, December 2, from 10:00–11:00 am ET. Other EPD sessions will occur between 10:00 am and 5:30 pm ET during these first four meeting days.

Evolutionary Keynote

The basic science portion of the meeting kicks off on Monday, December 7, at 10:00 am ET with the not-to-be-missed Keynote talk from Svante Pääbo, who is director of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, as well as a researcher at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, in Onna-son, Japan. Pääbo is one of the founders of paleogenetics and his team has developed a technique for isolating and sequencing the DNA of extinct creatures, which they apply to a variety of fragile, ancient source material from extinct human species and Homo sapiens. In his talk, he will link the past with our present circumstances.

“I will review our efforts to develop methods to retrieve genomes from archaeological and paleontological remains that are tens and hundreds of thousands of years old,” Pääbo said. “I will focus particularly on Neandertals and Denisovans, extinct forms of humans who are the closest evolutionary relatives of all present-day humans. I will discuss how these extinct hominins have contributed genetic variation to people alive today, and give examples of how these genetic contributions have both positive and negative consequences today, for example increasing sensitivity to pain, decreasing the risk for miscarriages, and increasing the risk of becoming severely ill when infected by SARS-CoV-2.”

Also on this day, ASCB and EMBO leadership will address attendees as they usually would on opening night. Short videos about our 2020 Prize for Excellence in Inclusivity awardee JoAnn Trejo and Public Service Award recipient Anthony Fauci will premiere.

Symposia, Microsymposia, Special Interest Subgroups, and Poster Sessions

Symposia, Minisymposia, Special Interest Subgroups, and other programming will be presented online between 10:00 am and 5:30 pm during the second week of the meeting. Twenty-eight 90-minute basic research Minisymposia spanning the seven scientific tracks of the meeting, will occur Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm ET. Twenty-seven Special Interest Subgroups, organized by members, are slated to happen from 1:45 to 5:00 pm ET on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Topics, talk titles, and presenters can be found for all on the meeting website (

Although we will miss the hum of conversation at the poster displays blended with the excitement and fun of the vendor booths this year, both will have a home in the virtual setting. Over 200 Poster Discussion Sessions will be scheduled in nine time slots during the third week of the meeting. They will allow for face-to-face interaction among presenters of posters with similar topics and attendees who choose to visit the virtual meeting rooms.

Aside from the poster sessions, the Symposia are always another main attraction of the meeting. This year nine Symposia by experts in each subspecialty will begin at 10:00 am ET each day. Here is a summary of all nine with highlights and things to look out for, as offered by some of the presenters. Most speakers will be available in meeting rooms for live, informal Q&A exchange following their sessions.


Cells in Distress and Disease

“Jamming-unjamming Transitions in Cancer Progression,” Peter Friedl, Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, The Netherlands

“How the Tubercle Bacillus Co-opts Host Pathways to Cause Cell Distress and Death,”

Lalita Ramakrishnan, the University of Cambridge

Dynamic Intracellular Organization

“Fluid Forces: Mechanics of Intracellular Phase Separation,” Cliff Brangwynne, Princeton University

“Microtubule Network Mechano-sensation,” Manuel Théry, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA)

“I will be talking about the 99% of the rest of the microtubule. For decades we have been focusing on the microtubule tip, the few hundreds of nanometers where tubulin dimers are added or removed to promote microtubule growth or shrinkage. However, microtubules are tens of micrometers long! I will argue that we have been fascinated by the tip of the iceberg but that an exciting world exists all along the rest of the microtubule and that key functions and properties are regulated there. I will also take advantage of the virtual meeting to put forward the young people who performed the experiments and show them in their natural environment: the bench! For this I hired a movie director in order to nicely combine real life and the presentation of actual, unpublished data,” said Théry,


Cell Shape, Cell Division, Migration, and Death

E. coli Meets World: How the Environment Shapes a Bacterial Cell,” Petra Anne Levin, Washington University in St. Louis

“Maintenance and Remodeling of Epithelial Cell-Cell Junctions during Cell Shape Changes,” Ann L. Miller, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

“My talk will focus on a rapid repair pathway my group has discovered that allows epithelial cells to change shape while maintaining their cell–cell connections (specifically their tight junctions). In my talk I will introduce some key background information about cell–cell junctions and why epithelial cell shape change is biologically important, unanswered questions in this field, why we use frog embryos to study these questions, key points about our published work, and new unpublished data about how calcium signaling is involved in the tight junction repair pathway. We do a lot of live imaging in my lab, so I will show movies of frog epithelial cells to grab people’s attention. We can obtain a lot of quantitative information from these movies, so I will also show how we quantify specific features across multiple embryos/movies. I will try to simplify my slides to deliver the key points (always a good idea, but especially in the virtual setting). I will also highlight the people in my lab who did the research. Many of them will be giving talks and/or posters at the meeting, so I will encourage viewers to check out their presentations to get more information! Finally, I’ve found that virtual talks have been great for prompting questions and discussion. I hope to get lots of questions from trainees either during the Q&A session or the chat!” explained Miller.

Growth, Pattern, and Form

“Sensing Fluid Flow by Immotile Cilia for Left-Right Patterning,” Hiroshi Hamada, Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research, RIKEN, Kobe, Japan

“Using the Cell Biology of Embryogenesis to Inform Tissue Regeneration and Repair in the Heart,” Kristy Red-Horse, Stanford University

Information Processing

“Getting in Touch with Mechanical Pain,” Diane M. Bautista, University of California, Berkeley

“Dynamic Changes in tRNA Modifications and Abundance during T-cell Activation,” Yitzhak Pilpel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel


Cellular Identity

“A Numbers Game Goes Awry: How Aneuploidy Affects Cell Behavior and Identity,” Rong Li, Department of Cell Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, and Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore

“Principles of Cellular Compartmentalization,” Anne Spang, University of Basel, Switzerland

How Different Cells Interact: Sex, War, Competition

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis and Macrophages: A Tug of War,” Max Gutierrez, The Francis Crick Institute, London

“Epic-genetic Battles and Other Tales of Innate Immune Memory,” Musa Mhlanga, Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Radboud University Medical Center, and the Epigenomics & Single Cell Biophysics Group, Department of Cell Biology, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Collective Cell Behavior

“Gut Instinct: The Intestine as a Model to Study Age-related Changes to Stem Cells and the Niche,”

Leanne Jones, University of California, Los Angeles

“My lab is generally interested in the mechanisms that are involved in regulating adult stem cell behavior and how those mechanisms are disrupted by aging and changes in metabolism. What I hope to cover in my talk is how aging can impact the cell–cell adhesion complexes that form the intestinal barrier. Our data are suggesting that the trafficking of adhesion proteins to the cell surface becomes disrupted in an aged animal, which has implications for many tissues that contain tight junctions (not just tissues maintained by stem cells). I think that is very exciting, as it may be linked to a number of age-onset diseases,” said Jones.

“Sources of Regenerative Capacity in Animals,” Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO

The Genome

“The Role of Spatial Proximity in Genome Regulation,” Wendy Bickmore, MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh, UK

“Loop Extrusion with Barriers as a Genomic Communication System,” Leonid Mirny, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For up-to-the-minute information on the Cell Bio Virtual 2020 meeting and to build your itinerary, visit the meeting website:



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