13th International Congress of Human Genetics in Kyoto

After our great experiences at the last two European Society for Human Genetics (ESHG) congresses in Milan and Glasgow, this year there was the chance to attend the 13th International Congress of Human Genetics in Kyoto, Japan. This congress only is hold every 5 years and the last time was in 2011 in Montreal.

The Main Hall

So Ronja, a colleague from the Institute of Human Genetics in Lübeck and I had an exhausting flight via Helsinki to Osaka, followed by a nice train ride on the Haruka Ltd. Express to Kyoto. As we were very jetlagged it was a good thing we had one extra day to adjust to the time-shift and the beautiful weather of course. As we already read before, the organizing committee did a great job in choosing exactly the right time to see the cherry blossoms (Sakura) in full bloom. This is certainly one of the best times to be in Kyoto.

Sakura in full bloom
On Sunday the congress started with a pre-symposium by Peter Harper on the history of human genetics. This was very interesting to hear and it is sure worth to check out the website
genmedhist.eshg.org. They will be also quite happy if you have something to contribute, may it be old genetics books or just some memories. After this all the different societies which are members of the International Society said something about their work. This already concluded the pre-symposium and we had time to check out the great architecture and surroundings of the Kyoto International Conference Center before the get-together begun. There was really nice Japanese food, and sake, of course, and we had interesting discussions with some of the 3116 delegates from 70 countries.

Opening the Sake barrels

The Monday started with the opening ceremony and it was a great surprise that it was graced by the presence of Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado.  The opening words were followed by two very fascinating plenary lectures. First one was given by nobel laureat Shinya Yamanaka, who every geneticist has to know for his work on converting matures cells back to pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).  Although he claimed to be nervous because of the princess he gave a very interesting talk on IPS cells and how they are looking for so-called super donors right now. And we learned that he must be a great boss, as he runs marathons to raise funding for his employees that are not on a fixed position.
Next in line was Eric Lander, who talkes on "Secrets of the Human Genome: The 35-year journey of genomic medicine". Not only he gave a great talk, but he also surprised us (and the locals) by giving his greeting in Japanese. Moreover we learned the importance of having parties from time to time, when you work on something like the Human Genome Project.

Kyoto International Conference Center

The plenary lecture was followed by lots and lots of great sessions on all different fields of human genetics. We heard about stem cells, cell sheet engineering, whole exome/ genome studies of all kinds, interesting bioinformatic approaches, somatic mosaicisms, complex structural variants, DNA methylation, the genetics of longevity, cardiovascular genetics and many, many more...
Unfortunately there were up to 12 parallel sessions so, of course, we also missed a lot of the talks and also of the 933 posters presented on 3 different days.
I myself presented a poster on "In-silico Prediction of Causal Coronary Artery Disease Genes" which a lot of people showed interest in. This was surprising as the weather was so nice and often poster sessions are not that well visited. This work continues one of our latest papers.
Ronja gave a great talk on "Mutations in HACE1 cause an autosomal-recessive neurodevelopmental disorder". You should for sure check out the publication, although it does not include all the new fancy data ;).

The inside looks like a Spaceship
The closing plenary session was a real highlight at the end. It was all about single molecule sequencing and the representatives of PACBIO, Oxford Nanopore and Quantum Biosystems told us why their technique is the best. Unfortunately Stephen Turner from Pacbio was 20 minutes over time and the others had to rush through their talks. Nonetheless, it seems like the current High Throughput Sequencing techniques ("NGS") are facing hard times ones this long read, single molecule techniques are established.

The garden around the conference center

Off course not everything was perfect: There could have been less invited sessions and more session with new data directly from the lab. And it was a pity that the exhibition-/ poster hall was a bit away from the rest. So in the short breaks not too many people made their way there. And sometime we felt a bit embarrassed for our non-japanese colleagues who behaved a bit odd when it came to lunchtime. Our hosts set up tables with sandwiches, drinks and desserts which were covered until the time all session were over. Off course not everybody could wait and so they plundered the buffet before it was actually opened, making a big mess. The same was with the great Japanese lunch boxes which were supplied by some of the sponsors during the luncheon seminars. I guess only half of the people in the really, really long lines decided to actually take part in the seminar and rather vanished quietly into the garden.

Vivid poster discussions

However it was a great congress in a beautiful city and the locals are all very nice. We think the next ICHG in Cape Town in 2021, could be even more international, as traveling is a bit easier for a lot of people, especially from Europe, the Middle East and Africa off course. We will try to be there! After all it is the cradle of Humankind!
And to our hosts in Japan: ありがとうございました

Passing the flag from the Japanese to the African Society.
- Great International Congress on Human Genetics in Kyoto
- Exactly at the right time, because of the cherry blossoms (Sakura)
- Fascinating plenary lectures and a lot of interesting talks
- Less invited speakers and more actual lab work would have been great
- Guests were not always as polite as the hosts
- Next Congress takes place in Cape Town in 2021
-  ありがとうございました