Chairmen's Address...

The hijacking of cells by pathogens has long been a powerful means of understanding cellular mechanisms. Whether it be phages that infect bacteria, or viruses that infect mammalian cells, they have helped us to understand the molecular basis of cellular functions. These pathogens act as useful tools that allow us to probe the inner workings of the cell.

In recent years the repertoire of pathogen tools has expanded considerably, concomitant with the explosion of sequence information for increasingly exotic organisms that has become readily available. This in turn has meant that sophisticated pathogens, that often use a wide array of molecular weapons to attack and populate cells, have permitted ever more complicated cellular machines to be analyzed at the molecular level. The pathogens themselves are often stripped-down versions of cells that do one or a few things remarkably well, and it is this specialization, and often simplification, that also allows underlying mechanisms to be elucidated.

Of course, such basic information, whether it arises from studies of the pathogen or the host it infects, is crucial for the understanding of the diseases they cause, which in turn offers the hope that a rational approach to cures might be possible, even though this is often a considerable challenge.

However, this explosion in the number of organisms that are studied has led to a fragmentation of information, since specialization is the key to successful science, and those working on one pathogen may have little knowledge of those working on another, even if closely related. This also means that the underlying unity of cellular mechanisms can be lost in the selective study of any one of them.

This conference, then, is a unique opportunity to bring together experts in diverse fields, to explain the basic mechanisms that have been elucidated through studies of individual pathogens. Collectively we hope that, by bringing them all together in a single conference, we might shed light on each others’ work, to the benefit of all.

Graham Warren & Tom Misteli