Sunday, 28 February 2016

Early 2016 immunology conferences

I'm very lucky to have attended two fantastic immunology conferences this year: the Keystone Systems Immunology conference, hosted at Big Sky in Montana, USA, and the Next Gen Immunology conference at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. I don't want to go into the details of either conference in any great depth (as frankly the standard of both was so high any thorough recounting would shortly turn into just a complete retelling of each event), but I thought it might be nice to recount a few of my impressions and recollections.

The Systems Immunology meeting was my first Keystone, fitting what I understand to be the regular format; talks in the morning and late afternoon, with a gap over lunch to allow people to sneak off to the slopes. This definitely seemed to be the strategy of a healthy proportion of the attendees - even a ski-novice like me managed to make it up there once or twice!

The Next Gen Immunology conference was a day shorter, but felt like a longer event by merit of absolutely jam-packing the talks and events in! I'm not sure that I've ever been to a busier conference, with talks running from before nine in the morning to past seven in the evening (albeit with a number of breaks to allow consumption of excessive amounts of coffee, even by general science standards). It also had the slickest branding of any conference I've ever been to, complete with it's own celebrity-filled introductory video (which was originally emailed round but has sadly now been made private!).

There were some interesting thematic differences between the conferences, despite having somewhat similar stated scopes. The Keystone talks were seemingly linked mostly in their approaches, displaying a fine array of highly-quantitative, systems level experiments. There was a definite emphasis on the single-cell technologies; it seemed that rare was the talk that wasn't employing at least either single-cell RNA-seq or 40-odd colour mass cytometry. The NGI talks on the other hand were much more diverse in terms of techniques employed, but converged more on the general area of research, which was the microbiome and the mucosal immune response.

Another observation that ticked me was the difference in plotting standards between the two conferences. At the Systems meeting, with (I think it's fair to say) a greater influence or prevalence of mathematical and computational backgrounds, there was a definite enrichment of LaTeX produced slides, and ggplot produced plots, whereas Prism and Excel were far more common in Israel. There was even a fairly large smattering of talks using comic sans, which came as a bit of surprise.

All together, I've kicked off the year with some fantastic science. I've ticked off a number of speakers that I've been wanting to hear for years – including Ron Germaine, Rick Flavell and David Baltimore – and added a few more to the list of stories I need to hear more from, like Aviv Regev's incredible bulk tumour scRNA-seq data, or the wonderful things that Ton Schumacher can do with T-cells.

Crucially, I also heard a little bit about the growing story of assembling T-cell receptor sequences out of scRNA-seq data (to be the topic of a future post I feel), which brings us to the shallows of one of the major goals of repertoire research; getting paired clonotype and phenotype in one fell swoop.