Saturday, September 26, 2009

RiboClub 10th Annual Meeting -- it was a good one!

I attended the RiboClub 10th Annual Meeting held during September 21 to 23 at Hotel Cheribourg, Orford, Quebec. Everyday, the schedule was fulfilled from early morning to late night. Indeed, it was so tight and intensive that I could not even find a time to walk around in the beautiful season. Overall, though, the meeting was well-organized and had a fantastic scientific program.

The RiboClub was founded ten years ago by researchers at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec. Initially, it was local, and then the club was extended to nearby areas, and the whole Canada. As time goes, its influence has also passed the border so at its 10th anniversary, several leading RNA experts (including Phillip Sharp, Jack Szostak, Tim Nilsen, Tom Steitz et al.) from the USA also participated.

I noticed the RiboClub meeting early this year when I was writing up a manuscript on an RNA structural motif. As hinted in another post, "Does 3DNA work for RNA?", I've recently been attracted to the field of RNA structures. Using 3DNA, we have uncovered a simple RNA-specific interaction that is biologically relevant, yet virtually ignored by the community. So attending a RNA meeting would allow me to learn more about RNA and to pass our message across to a wider audience.

The meeting was mostly on various aspects of RNA biology. Of which, 3-dimensional structure is an integral part, yet no specific session was devoted to it. The same applied to bioinformatics tools and applications. Thus, for example, Tom Steitz's talk on the ribosome structures was under the session titled "Translation: targets and impact".

The organizers obviously paid attention to arrange meeting participants at the dinning table. So for Tuesday (Sept. 22) night, I sit next to Dr. Andrew MacMillan from University of Alberta. It was a nice surprise to know that Dr. MacMillan works on "structural and functional characterization of splicesome assembly and activation." I took this opportunity to read the abstracts from his lab and to talk to him about my findings that are related to pre-mRNA splicing. He visited my post the next day (Wednesday, Sept 23) and we discussed it in more details. On the Gala dinner on Wednesday, I was arranged to sit between Dr. Paul Griffiths, "a philosopher of science with a focus on biology and psychology", and Dr. W. Ford Doolittle, a leading scientist in Comparative Genomics. It was a valuable experience to hear them and others around the table talking on politics and science-related issues.

It is worth noting that Wednesday's dinner speaker was Alexander Rich. Wearing his tie from the famous RNA Tie Club, Dr. Rich talked about "The era of RNA awakening: structural biology of RNA in the early years." At the age of 85, he still spoke clearly and logically. His story telling style was very effective and his talk was well-received by the audience. For those who are interested in knowing more about Dr. Rich's work, I would strongly recommend his article "The excitement of discovery."

The "Neo-Traditional Quebec Music" show on Wednesday night was exciting and relaxing, following and in contrast to the three-day long intensive scientific program. Although I did not understand the music that well, I stayed until the very end.