Cell Biology of Metals Gordon Research Conference
Jul 31, 2019 8:00 AM
I attended the Cell Biology of Metals Gordon Research Conference in Castelldefels, Spain, from July 14-19, 2019. This meeting highlighted the cellular mechanisms for uptake and utilization of metal ions, including iron, copper, and zinc and featured speakers from the United States, Europe, and Asia. At this meeting, I presented a talk on my lab’s work to unravel an unusual role of the divergent acyl carrier protein (ACP) in coordinating Fe-S cluster metabolism in the mitochondrion of Plasmodium malaria parasites. Fe-S clusters are ancient and essential biochemical co-factors used by many proteins in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells to carry out critical cellular processes and chemical transformations. ACP is known to serve as the scaffold protein during synthesis of new fatty acids in bacteria and eukaryotic organelles, including mitochondria and chloroplasts. Although a noncanonical role for ACP in mediating Fe-S cluster biogenesis in yeast and mammalian cells is now well established, in these systems ACP function requires the presence of a critical prosthetic group called an acylated phosphopantetheine. The Plasmodium homolog of ACP has sequence changes that prevent attachment of this prosthetic group and thus its role in mediating Fe-S cluster biogenesis in malaria parasites presents a new paradigm for ACP functional interactions in biology. By understanding the biochemical features of this unusual ACP in malaria parasites, we hope to identify new therapeutic opportunities to target this dangerous pathogen.
This lively meeting presented a range of fantastic science from researchers around the world interested in the functional roles of diverse metals in cellular biology, with a mix of speakers that included both established scientists and junior investigators. A key part of this meeting was the “Power Hour” discussion of the special challenges faced by women and other scientists from underrepresented backgrounds in overcoming various hurdles to scientific and professional success, including ways to recognize and address feeling of “imposter syndrome”, resources to balance family and professional responsibilities, and initiatives and strategies to diversify the make-up of scientific communities at all levels.
I attended this meeting with one of my graduate students, Tanya Espino, who presented a poster on her work to understand the functions of mitochondrial cytochromes in malaria parasites. We both enjoyed the diversity of science and opportunities to interact and network with researchers from the metals biology community that differs from the parasitology community with which we commonly interact. We came away with new ideas, stretched perspectives, and several possible new collaborations. I want to thank the Office of Health Equity and Inclusion for supporting our participating in this excellent meeting!Paul Sigala, PhD
Dept. of Biochemistry
University of Utah School of Medicine