17th EMBL PhD Symposium
Just by Chance?
Randomness & Variability Shaping Biology
22nd–24th October, 2015
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
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About the Symposium

Since its inception in 2000, the annual EMBL PhD Symposium has grown into a well-respected meeting of early-career scientists and high-profile speakers. The aim of this year's symposium is to explore the importance of randomness and variability in biology.

To survive and thrive, living systems must navigate the fine line between order and chaos. On the one hand, the stochastic nature of chemistry gives rise to the diversity that fuels adaptation and creativity, from symmetry breaking in tissue development to the emergence of novel genes in evolution. On the other hand, stochasticity threatens the integrity of organised structures and the reliability of controlled processes, necessitating repair mechanisms, checkpoint control systems and feedback loops.

Whether the result of a random event or of controlled divergence, variability is a fundamental characteristic of living matter. Differences between molecules, between cells, and between individuals are essential for the proper functioning of biological systems. Seemingly homogeneous populations, when studied more closely, exhibit remarkable levels of diversity, and technical advances are increasingly enabling such inquiries.

In short, living systems must robustly maintain their internal organisation, yet remain flexible to respond and adapt to the challenges of a dynamic environment. The balance between these opposing requirements shapes life across all scales, from molecules to ecosystems, and its investigation is central to modern biological research.

Characterised by the diverse backgrounds of its organisers, the EMBL PhD symposium has always made multidisciplinarity one of its hallmarks. By bringing together leading scientists who tackle issues of randomness and variability from different perspectives, we seek to enable an exchange of ideas and inspire early-career researchers to see biological systems from a new point of view.


Dr. Peter Fraser

Babraham Institute

After a group leader position at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Peter Fraser has moved to the Babraham Institute in Cambridge in 1999 to become Head of the Laboratory of Chromatin and Gene Expression. He is currently Head of the Nuclear Dynamics Program at the same institute. His group research is focused on various levels of chromatin, chromosome and nuclear structure, from individual nucleosome modifications to the dynamic 3D structure of chromosomes and their inter-relationships in the nucleus and how they affect genome functions.


The backbone of the symposium will consist of fifteen expert lectures, three of which will explore the interplay between research and the society at large. The science lectures will explore the theme of randomness and variability in biology from a wide range of different perspectives. They will furthermore be supported by ten short talks, selected from among the participants’ poster abstracts.

To allow for a more engaging contact between speakers and participants, each day will be concluded by a blackboard session and a panel discussion. The blackboard sessions involve each of the speakers of a given day sitting down with a smaller group of participants, opening the possibility for an informal exploration of the lecture’s topic.

The meeting will be completed by ample opportunities for speakers and participants to communicate and intermingle during breaks, an evening visit to historical Heidelberg, a tour of the EMBL facilities, and the closing party.

Day 1, Thursday, October 22nd

Order from Disorder - Proteins, Structures and Networks

08:00-09:00 Registration
09:00-09:25 Symposium Opening & Welcome
09:25-10:20 EMBO keynote lecture: Peter Fraser
3D Organization of the genome and gene expression control
10:20-10:40 Short Talk: Magdalena Wawrzynjuk
Disordered proteins in the eyes of a molecular chaperone
10:40-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00-11:45 Lecture: Pau Bernadó
A structural perspective of the biological function of Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
11:45-12:45 Poster Session 1
12:45-14:05 Lunch Break
14:05-14:50 Lecture: Anna Tramontano
Chance and necessity: the computational analysis of antibody structure
14:50-15:10 Short Talk: Giulia Menichetti
Multiscale characterization of ageing and cancer progression by a novel Network Entropy measure
15:10-15:55 Lecture: Zoë Gamble
Communicating science: adapting in a dynamic environment
15:55-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-17:00 Lecture: Volkhard Helms
Studying stochastic but directed biomolecular association on funneled free energy landscapes
17:00-17:20 Short Talk: Anália Lourenço
Modelling Biological Noise in Microbial Cells: Single Particular Simulation of Molecular Diffusion and Enzyme Kinetics
17:20-17:40 Coffee Break
17:40-18:30 Blackboard Session
18:30-19:15 Panel Discussion
19:15 Dinner
Evening Social Evening in Downtown Heidelberg

Day 2, Friday, October 23rd

Managing Variability - Regulatory Systems from Cells to Organisms

09:00-09:10 Introduction to the Day
09:10-10:05 Keynote Lecture: Michael Levine
Mechanisms for suppressing transcriptional noise in living Drosophila embryos
10:05-10:25 Short Talk: Angel Carlos Roman
Molecular mechanisms required for behavioral variability in zebrafish
10:25-10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-11:30 EMBO Young Investigator lecture: Caren Norden
Using vertebrate retinal development as a paradigm to study how cell biology shapes morphogenesis: From optic cup to neuronal tissue
11:30-12:30 Poster Session 2
12:30-13:45 Lunch Break
13:45-14:30 Lecture: Martin Falcke
Information transmission with random spike sequences and large cell variability in IP3-induced Ca2+ signalling
14:30-14:50 Short Talk: Eun-Jin Kim
Variability and degradation of self-organisation in heart rhythm
14:50-15:35 Lecture: Andrea Smidler
CRISPR gene drives in the malaria mosquito
15:35-15:55 Coffee Break
15:55-16:15 Short Talk: Lucas Schütz
Epithelial folds provide a putative scaffold to buffer fly gastrulation
16:15-17:00 Lecture: Alfonso Martinez-Arias
Cells, chance and fate: the emergence of positional information
17:00-17:20 Short Talk: Nils Eling
Single-cell and spatial transcriptome analysis of larval-stage cells reveals differential expression patterns in the trunk and apical nervous systems of Platynereis dumerilii
17:20-17:40 Coffee Break
17:40-18:30 Blackboard Session
18:30-19:15 Panel Discussion
19:15 Dinner
Evening EMBL Guided Tour

Day 3, Saturday, October 24th

Fuelling Evolution - Genetic Variations and Inheritance

09:15-09:25 Introduction to the Day
09:25-10:20 Keynote Lecture: Laura Landweber
RNA-programmed genome reorganization in the ciliate Oxytricha
10:20-10:40 Short Talk: Rebecca Poulos
Promoter mutation hotspots in cancer genomes are associated with increased transcriptional activity and reduced access by DNA repair machinery
10:40-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00-11:20 Short Talk: Mariana Ruiz Velasco
Variation in CTCF binding across individuals is linked to alternative exon usage
11:20-12:05 Lecture: Kikuë Tachibana-Konwalski
Maternal control of the mammalian oocyte-to-zygote transition
12:05-12:25 Short Talk: Joshua Christie
Randomness and variability promote adaptive evolution in the mitochondrial genome
12:25-13:40 Lunch Break
13:40-14:25 Lecture: Thomas Gilbert
Modern genomes, ancient genomes, and reconstructing extinct species
14:25-14:45 Short Talk: Chico Camargo
What Darwin did not know: natural variation is structured
14:45-15:30 Lecture: Irene Hames
Ethical practice in research and its publication: what does it involve, how can it be achieved, how can problems be avoided?
15:30-15:50 Coffee Break
15:50-16:35 Lecture: Ville Mustonen
How intra population heterogeneity influences repeatability of evolutionary outcomes and success of therapies
16:35-16:55 Short Talk: Chiara Baccin
Predictive transcriptomics of cell death
16:55-17:15 Coffee Break
17:15-18:05 Blackboard Session
18:05-18:50 Panel Discussion
18:50-19:15 Symposium Closing
19:15 Dinner
Evening Closing Party

Travel and Accommodation

How to get to Heidelberg

Heidelberg is easily reached by train, car or plane from any country in the world. The EMBL campus is located in Heidelberg's neighbourhood area of Boxberg which is approximately 10 minutes by car from Heidelberg's city centre.

Reaching us by train, plane, car

During the Symposium

We will provide buses for the Symposium participants on each day of the Symposium. Location of the stops are shown on this map

  • bus provided by EMBL
  • bus 39 by RNV (2.40 €)
  • moonliner 1 by RNV (2.40 €)

**Hans-Böcklerstraße is the bus stop for public transportation next to the Exzellenz Hotel

Thursday, October 22nd

From Heidelberg to EMBL

Bismarck­platz **Hans-Böckler­straße Exzellenz Hotel ISG Hotel Boxberg­ring Guest­house EMBL
07:50 07:55 08:05
07:50 08:05 08:15
07:50 07:52 08:06
08:10 08:12 08:26
08:30 08:32 08:46

From EMBL to Heidelberg

EMBL Boxberg­ring Guest­house ISG Hotel Exzellenz Hotel Hans-Böckler­straße Bismarck­platz Neckar­münz­platz
19:11 19:26 19:28
20:30 20:35 *20:40 - 20:50 21:05 21:15
20:47 21:02 21:04

* 10 minutes stop

From Heidelberg to Hotels

Neckar­münz­platz Bismarck­platz Exzellenz Hotel ISG Hotel Boxberg­ring Guest­house
23:30 23:40 23:55 00:00
00:38 01:01

Friday, October 23rd

From Heidelberg to EMBL

Bismarck­platz Hans-Böckler­straße Exzellenz Hotel ISG Hotel Boxberg­ring Guest­house EMBL
07:50 07:52 08:06
08:10 08:12 08:26
08:20 08:25 08:30
08:15 08:30 08:40
08:30 08:32 08:46

From EMBL to Heidelberg

EMBL Boxberg­ring Guest­house ISG Hotel Exzellenz Hotel Hans-Böckler­straße Bismarck­platz
19:11 19:26 19:28
20:30 20:35 20:40 20:55
21:30 21:35 21:40 21:55
20:47 21:02 21:04

Saturday, October 24th

From Heidelberg to EMBL

Bismarck­platz Hans-Böckler­straße Exzellenz Hotel ISG Hotel Boxberg­ring Guest­house MPI Kernphysik** EMBL
08:00 08:02 08:14
08:35 08:40 08:45
08:35 08:50 09:00

** On Saturdays and Sundays public buses are not driving directly to EMBL. Please get on/off the bus at MPI Kernphysik and walk across the MPI campus to reach EMBL (5-10 min walk).

From EMBL to Heidelberg

EMBL MPI Kernphysik** Boxberg­ring Guest­house ISG Hotel Exzellenz Hotel Hans-Böckler­straße Bismarck­platz
19:44 19:56 19:58
20:30 20:35 20:40 20:55
23:30 23:35 23:40 23:55
02:00 02:05 02:10 02:25

** On Saturdays and Sundays public buses are not driving directly from EMBL. Please walk across the MPI campus to reach the bus at MPI Kernphysik bus stop (5-10 min walk).

Travel Documents and Visas

Prior to travelling to Germany, some applicants from certain countries may have to acquire special travel documents, such as a visa. Applicants are strongly encouraged to check with the local German Authorities (Embassies or Consulates) about the need of special travelling documents. Since the process may be time consuming, applicants are advised to make such arrangements as soon as possible. Failure to obtain a visa after the deadline for participation in the conference will not result in a refund. Applicants are responsible for providing the right documentation needed for their entry into Germany. However, upon request, the Organizing Committee can issue a formal letter of acceptance to the symposium for the purposes of obtaining a visa. Please be aware that no visa letters will be issued before payment of the registration fee. The organizing committee can not be held responsible in the case of a refusal by German authorities to enter German territory.


The registration fees do not include accommodation and it has to be personally arranged. However, if you are happy to share a double room with a fellow participant, rooms have been pre-booked at the EMBL/ISG hotel near EMBL. Please contact us (not the hotel) if you would like to stay at the ISG hotel.
Please note that a shuttle bus will run between EMBL and the ISG Hotel during the conference.


Registration is now closed

Open until September 6th
Academia Fee €150
Industry Fee €200
Abstract submission deadline: August 21st

Financial support

A limited number of fee waivers and travel grants are available for the meeting. If you are interested, please apply via email. Awardees will be selected based on the scientific merit of the abstract with advantages for participants from less affluent countries.

Any further questions?

For more details about abstract submission, oral presentations and poster sessions, financial support and travel information please refer to our FAQs page.

Abstract submission

Please note:

  • The 2,000-character limit refers to manually typed text (including spaces).
  • Please enter your co-authors correctly via the system by clicking the "add co-author" link. DO NOT copy-paste them into the body of the abstract text, as they will not be indexed in the abstract book.
  • Copy-paste text may include hidden formatting that exceeds the character limit. We recommend either:
    • saving as 'text only' in your editor or e-mail programme, OR
    • copy-pasting it into Notepad and then onto the website.
    • Some web browsers do not accept abstracts close to the 2,000-character count.
  • If you have special symbols in your text, please ensure you are using Unicode characters, otherwise these will not be recognised.


Sponsorship Information

The EMBL PhD symposium will provide an invaluable networking environment for your company to enhance the profile amongst the molecular biosciences research community, especially towards the young generation. The symposium will offer prime opportunities for your company to promote your new products, latest technology, and services. A sponsorship brochure featuring various sponsorship packages will be available here soon.

The Company of Biologists eLife EMBL EMBO Enzo The Galton Institute Lonza Zymo Research

Media partners:

GIT Labor-Fachzeitschrift

Also kindly supported by:

EMBL CPP's founder partners

Leica Olypus

EMBL CPP's corporate partners

Becton Dickinson GE Healthcare gsk illumina

EMBL CPP's associate partners

eppendorf life technologies Merck Serono Nikon Sanofi ThermoFisher


PhD Symposium 2015

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