From capping to worms to turtles to editors to apes

Gastbeitrag. What a day at the EMBO meeting! Opening lecture by Elisabeth Blackburn on chromosome capping followed by a series of lectures on evolution of animal forms, quick lunch with the editors, gene networks, posters presentations and lessons to learn from the apes with Frans de Waal.


What a great rush yesterday! The day couldn’t have started better: opening lecture by Elisabeth Blackburn reminding us the importance of keeping the right length of the caps of our chromosomes – the telomeres – and the enzymes that do it – the telomerase. Keeping the cap too long may mean cancer but letting it too short can go along with aging and death. She won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase, almost 30 years after her initial findings. Yesterday, at the EMBO meeting, she showed us how much there is still to learn about such a sophisticated system.
Blackburn’s lecture was followed by a series of lectures on evolution of animals ranging from worms to turtles. And from a lecture about the origins of the turtle’s body plan by Shigeru Kuratani from Japan I went for lunch with the editors from the EMBO journals. A very relaxed setting consisting of a round table and lunch bags with sandwiches and chocolates, allowed us to play a kind of role inversion game: the editor was challenged with the criticism and curiosity of young investigators. Thank you to all the brave editors that participated! It really helped us to understand better the editing process ranging from paper submission to either paper acceptance or refusal. And most of all, it was a pleasure to see the faces behind the emails that can cause scientists so much joy or so much disappointment at the same time.
Frans de Waal ended the afternoon with a fantastic lesson to be learned from apes, dolphins and even elephants – empathy. He took us into a trip of recognition giving examples ranging from altruistic chimpanzees that save a fellow in need to elephants that can recognize themselves in a mirror. And it is because they can recognize themselves in certain situations as well as in mirrors, that they can also provide help when they perceive a friend in need.
Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist working at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. In this center live and work more than 4000 primates from which 250 are scientists. By means of precise observation and documentation studies, Frans de Waal and his team have shown in renowned scientific journals such as Nature and Science that we do share many of our intrinsic characteristics with apes – empathy, consolation, reconciliation, targeted helping and cultural traditions are just some examples of what makes us so human and humans so ape.

Adriana Goncalves ist Gastbloggerin vom EMBO-Meeting Adriana.jpg

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