The 13th International Colloquium on Endocytobiology and Symbiosis, Kyoto

The 13th International Colloquium on Endocytobiology and Symbiosis was held in Kyoto from September 10 to 14, 2016. A fine poster advertised the colloquium.

The organiser was Junichi Obokata of Kyoto Prefectoral University. My painstakingly generous local host was Mitsumasa Hanaoka of Chiba University. I am so grateful to them both, as to the colloquium staff and fellow participants.

At Mitsumaasa’s invitation I gave a seminar in his laboratory in Chiba, immediately after getting off the train from Narita airport on 8 September, and a longer and better version on 9 September at Kyoto University. Both seminars were entitled Mitochondria, ageing and separate sexes, and elicited excellent questions.

My plenary lecture at the colloquium itself was an account of progress with a consistent theme over a number of years and in different laboratories, countries, and universities, including recent results published in 2016. This lecture was entitled Why chloroplasts and mitochondria retain their own genomes and genetic systems: Co-location for Redox Regulation of gene expression.

The full programme of the Colloquium is available, and includes abstracts.

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Photosynthetic and Respiratory complexes: from structure to function

Photosynthetic and Respiratory complexes: from structure to function in Verviers, Belgium, from August 13 to 16, 2016. A satellite conference organised by Egbert Boekema and Pierre Cardol. The programme was full of interest.

I gave a Plenary Lecture soon after arrival: Redox control of thylakoid protein phosphorylation and reaction centre gene transcription. Molecular recognition redistributes mobile light-harvesting antennae and adjusts the stoichiometry of photosystems I and II.

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The 17th International Congress on Photosynthesis Research, Maastricht

The 17th International Congress on Photosynthesis Research. Photosynthesis in a Changing World took place in Maastricht, The Netherlands, from 7 to 12 August 2016. The organisers were Roberta Croce and Herbert van Amerongen.

My own contribution, in the session Evolution of Photosynthesis, was about photosynthesis in a radically changing world. It was entitled Conserved two-component transcriptional redox regulation in cyanobacteria and chloroplasts. Implications for the origin and evolutionary trajectory of oxygenic photosynthesis.

The full programme of the Congress.

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Photosynthetic electron and proton transport Arnhem 4-7 August

Photosynthetic Electron and Proton Transfer in Plants and Algae took place in Arnhem on the 4th to the 7th of August 2016.

Many thanks to the organisers; Anja Krieger, Jeremy Harbinson, and Giovanni Finazzi; as to all participants.

My own presentation had the title Redox control of chloroplast protein phosphorylation and reaction centre gene transcription. Regulatory coupling between photosynthetic electron transport and gene expression.

Family holiday in Fleury d’Aude, 20 – 26 July

A superb week with four of our children and three very welcome partners, in a villa in the centre of Fleury. Thanks especially to Nicholas for choosing the location.

A bonus for five of us was three days in Mirabeau, in the Luberon, as guests of my friend and colleague Wolfgang Nitschke, the most generous of hosts.

There are so many memorable incidents from these visits. The night sky from the high Luberon at around midnight. Is it not extraordinary, and regrettable, that our own galaxy is unseen by so many people today?

Thanks to all for a wonderful and memorable adventure.

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The Stern Review of REF

It seems to be a distinct improvement on many counts.
One declared objective is to guard against “gaming” the system.
Many institutions will surely, nevertheless, find ways to misrepresent their research achievements. I can’t immediately see what these will be.

Apparently the rules will be published in 2017 for a REF in 2021.

BIES
The Guardian, James Wilsdon
THE, Nicholas Stern

Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?

This morning I attended a discussion meeting at the House of Lords concerning the Higher Education and Research Bill.

In my opinion there is an urgent need to oppose this disastrous Bill.

The Convention for Higher Education has produced a summary of the many reasons for doing so.

These include, quoting from the e-mail of invitation to today’s meeting:-

  • the proposed reorganisation of research in the UK (including abolition of the Research Councils’ royal charters);
  • the proposed introduction of a lower bar for entry into English higher education by new ‘alternative providers’;
  • the proposal to abolish Privy Council involvement in the granting of English university title, and to vest all such powers (including withdrawal of title) in a new body entirely appointed by and overseen by the Secretary of State.

The Bill seems designed to consolidate Failing management in UK universities.

In its 117 pages, the Bill contains neither definition nor description of the term university. The Bill has no declared aim. What is its purpose?

Teaching is to be overseen by an Office for Students.

The White paper’s short section “Research” is entirely about United Kingdom Research and Innovation, a superstructure for the Research Councils. Is research itself no longer a core university activity?

From the Higher Education and Research Bill:-

UK research and innovation functions
UKRI may—
(a) carry out research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(b) facilitate, encourage and support research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(c) facilitate, encourage and support the development and exploitation of science, technology and new ideas,
(d) collect, disseminate and advance knowledge in and in connection with science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(e) promote awareness and understanding of science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(f) provide advice on any matter relating to any of its functions, and
(g) promote awareness and understanding of its activities.

“…and new ideas” – listed as if these are a separate field of enquiry. I wonder what the authors imagine research to be?

A member of academic staff in a real university researches and teaches. These two activities are complementary; each supports the other. Research qualifies a university teacher to take students to the boundary of existing knowledge, to try to see beyond it, and to question what they find there.

Quantum secrets of photosynthesis at Summer Science Exhibition 2016

The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is always full of interest. The 2016 exhibition had some remarkable displays and demonstrations.

Quantum secrets of photosynthesis was fascinating. I heard that energy transfer between chlorophyll molecules occurs more rapidly than can be explained by classical models, and that quantum superposition is required. I am not quite sure what that means, but need to find out. It somehow also has implications for understanding consciousness, apparently. Nicholas Allen, M.A. (Social Anthropology) was just as intrigued as I.

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My own interest in energy transfer in photosynthesis is long-standing, while I tend to think much more of great big proteins carrying chlorophyll, changing shape, and lumbering around in membranes, to break and forge alliances with different photochemical reaction centres. I’ll have something to say on this in Verviers on August 13. I wonder if there are quantum secrets hidden under the classical model I carry around and that I have, perhaps, come to take for granted?

Full marks to Dr Alexandra Olaya-Castro and her team of enthusiasts at the exhibit for an entertaining set of demonstrations, accurate in the parts I think I understand, and accessible, I know, to a much wider audience.