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FRIAS-Fellows organize first international meeting on autophagy in Germany

Report on the Black Forest Winter Conference, January 29-31, 2016: "Autophagic Membrane Trafficking & Dynamics in Aging and Disease"

From January 29-31, 2016, a high level FRIAS conference on autophagic mechanisms in aging and disease took place in the midst of the Black Forest at Saig near Titisee. The conference, organized by FRIAS Fellows Klaus Aktories, Jörn Dengjel, Stefan Eimer, and Tobias Huber, as well as Gian Maria Fimia and Frank Madeo, who had been the speaker of the Freiburg Horizonte earlier that week, was to our knowledge the first international meeting on autophagy ever held in Germany.

Autophagy (gr.”self-eating”) is a process of degradation of misfolded proteins or dysfunctional organelles within double-membrane vesicles. Over the past decade, autophagy became known to be one of the key mechanisms that fine tunes normal cellular processes like development and homeostasis. Alterations in autophagy are associated with accelerated aging and might contribute to various diseases such as cancer, inflammation, cardiomyopathies and neurodegeneration.

During the conference, which was frequented by most of the top scientists dominating the field, regulation and molecular mechanisms of various variants of autophagy, such as macroautophagy and mitophagy, the process of recycling mitochondria, were discussed.

Furthermore, the meeting highlighted additional aspects of the topic including the role of autophagy for metabolism and translational aspects of autophagy in clinical applications and disease. Professor Daniel Klionsky, Professor at the University of Michigan, was invited as a key note speaker. Klionsky pioneered the field of autophagy by first describing key molecules of this important cellular mechanism in yeast. In his state-of-the-art lecture he summarized the current perspective of autophagy highlighting the role of certain molecules important for number and size control of newly formed autophagosomes. During the meeting a number of preeminent speakers from Europe, USA and Japan shared unpublished data of their labs creating a stimulating atmosphere of scientific discussion. In several poster sessions ongoing projects were presented focusing on various aspects of autophagy and membrane trafficking. In two workshops participants were able to get in contact with key technologies of molecular research – proteomics and high resolution imaging.

Throughout the four-day conference, extensive discussions followed the in total 28 oral presentations and two poster sessions, in such an animated way that the organizers sometimes had to remind the scientists that there are also other necessities like eating or sleeping in order to maintain one’s own homeostasis.

The meeting served its purpose in bringing together the scientists in a very casual and relaxed atmosphere, enabling them to do what is so hard to achieve during normal life back at home institutes: having the time to engage in concentrated discussions over a couple of days.

It was discussed that this unique event could serve as the starting point for a bi-annual series of conferences on autophagy to be organized by the Frankfurt Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1177 on autophagy in collaboration with the Autophagy Society, part of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Taken together the Black Forest Winter Conference "Autophagic Membrane Trafficking and Dynamics in Aging and Disease“ was perceived as an exceptional event which will probably trigger fruitful scientific collaborations and new ideas catalyzing future progress in the field of autophagy. The results will surely be evident during the next couple of years.

Tillmann Bork and Britta Küst