Living Systems Institute

Sensing of Chiral Molecules with Metamaterials-related Optical Sensors

The ability to create artificial early human embryos could benefit research in Chirality is a fundamental property of life. The chiral sensing and analysis of molecules is crucial to chemistry, biology and medicine. Detecting the inherently weak nature of the chiral response of molecules remains one of the great challenges in the fields of optics and photonics. Optical sensors traditionally struggle to detect inherently weak chiral signals from molecules. Here, a metamaterials-related sensor is predicted to increase chiral sensitivity by three orders of magnitude. Metamaterials-related optical sensors are engineered structures designed to interact with electromagnetic radiation and the molecules in a desired fashion. They can interact with the electric and magnetic components of light in a way that enhances the sensing of molecules.

The paper is entitled ‘Enhanced chiroptical responses through coherent perfect absorption in a parity-time symmetric system’ and is published in Nature Communications Physics.

EMBO Workshop: Long-distance cell-cell signalling in development and disease – 10th to 13th April 2022

The EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organisation) workshop on Long-distance cell-cell signalling in development and disease was hosted by the Scholpp Lab at the University of Exeter from 10th-13th April 2022. The long-awaited workshop finally went ahead after being postponed twice due to the pandemic and brought together 70 scientists from around the UK, Europe, US and Asia who work on cell signalling.

Participants of the EMBO workshop 2022 on Forum Hill, University of Exeter

After arriving in Exeter on Sunday 10th April, the participants were welcomed by Austin Smith and Steffen Scholpp from the Living Systems Institute (LSI), University of Exeter. The conference was kicked-off with a virtual talk from Peter Lawrence (University of Cambridge) on Historical Perspectives on cell signalling and Tom Kornberg (University of California, San Francisco) on contact-mediated signalling. The 4-day conference was packed full of talks from leading scientists in cell-cell communication, as well as short-talks presented by PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.

The Scholpp group, based in the Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter hosted the EMBO cell signalling workshop, April 2022.

During the conference, the speakers covered many mechanisms of cell communication of a variety of signalling pathways. This included contact-mediated signalling via Cytonemes, as well as exovesicles, tunnelling nanotubes and diffusion. Some of the highlights from the conference were talks from members of the Scholpp lab; Steffen Scholpp, Sally Rogers and Daniel Routledge (University of Exeter) which included the latest unpublished research on Cytoneme-mediated cell signalling in zebrafish development and gastric cancer. Frank Winkler (University of Heidelberg) and Michelle Monje (Stanford Medicine) presented talks on long-distance networks of communication in brain cancer and how this knowledge can be used to combat glioblastoma in children. David Virshup (Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School)presented his group’s latest findings on Wnt signalling via cytonemes in human organoids. On the second day of the conference, we were joined virtually by our keynote speaker Nobel Prize-winner Randy Schekman (University of California Berkeley) who presented his group’s latest research on exovesicles. The first 2 days of the conference finished with poster presentations from PhD students and postdoctoral participants in the LSI.

Tom Kornberg (University of California San Francisco) introducing the keynote speaker Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman (University of California Berkeley)

Outside of the presentations and posters, the conference participants had the chance to enjoy campus and the local area. Before the start of the third day of the conference, some participants were taken on a tour of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Others went on a guided running tour of the University of Exeter campus. At the end of the penultimate day of the workshop, all participants travelled to Exmouth, where we enjoyed a Gala dinner at the Ocean Restaurant by the beach. Finally, at the end of the conference, a group of participants met on Exeter Quayside for a kayaking trip down the River Exe to Double Locks.

Overall, we were delighted by the presentation of unpublished data and the lively and collegial discussions during the workshop. We are optimistic that this workshop has benefitted all participants by providing an opportunity to learn exciting new techniques, start new collaborations and meet old and new friends. At the end of the 4-days, Tom Kornberg, UCSF, described the workshop as “the first conference to emphasise the importance and universality of cell extensions in cell-cell signalling in multicellular organisms and has highlighted new research in the field”.

The EMBO workshop was organised by Steffen Scholpp, Agnieszka Kaczmar, Sally Rogers and Daniel Routledge from the Scholpp lab (University of Exeter), as well as Isabel Guerrero (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and Tom Kornberg (University of California San Francisco). The workshop was supported by The EMBO Journal, EMBO press, The Company of Biologists, The International Society of Differentiation and the Society for Developmental Biology. In future, we very much look forward to the next cell signalling workshop in Paris hosted by Chiara Zurzolo (Institut Pasteur).

EMBO workshop organisation committee. Left-right: Steffen Scholpp (University of Exeter), Isabel Guerrero (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Tom Kornberg (University of California San Francisco), Agnieszka Kaczmar (University of Exeter), Sally Rogers (University of Exeter), Daniel Routledge (University of Exeter)