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One Minute, One Slide: SFN's extreme sleep and circadian neurobiology DataBlitz event

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What can you show with one minute and one slide?

It turns out, quite a lot!

For the past 21 years, the NIH National Center on Sleep Disorders Research has hosted a DataBlitz at the annual SFN meeting, challenging 20 speakers to present their work in only 60 seconds, and with only a single slide. The night is then capped-off with a plenary speaker, respectifully given two slides and two whole minutes. When I received the email inviting me to present my sleep research at this year’s DataBlitz, having never previously attended I naively assumed this would be a formal evaluation of my data, and I agonized over how to pare down my data into its most salient puncta.

Well, talk about missing the mark…

The Sleep and Circadian Biology DataBlitz is anything but formal. Dr.'s Chris Leonard and Michael Twery introduced the concept to everybody with drinks in hand, and encouraged the audience to cheer wildly for the good speakers, but to boo vociferously at anyone who dared pass the 60 second mark. With that warning ringing in my ears, he passed the mike to the MC of the evening, Dr. Lisa Lyons, and we began our rapid fire dive into the cutting edge of circadian research.

I learned there are a number of unique approaches to communicating your entire paper in only one minute. The first is just to speak faster… Rebecca Northeast from University of Manchester walked us all the way through the brainstem’s involvement in circadian timekeeping and demonstrated single-cell cycling rhythmicity between the the area postrema and the nucleus of the solitary tract. Kevin Zhang explained the importance of peripheral light sensing for mice and humans alike, and pretty clearly walked through their new deep-brain photoreceptor Opn3.

Others, myself included, applied a whittling-down approach, and painfully distilled the past several years of our lives into a couple key figures. William Todd for example showed the circuit controlling time-dependent aggression propensity in mice, and explained its possible relevance to “sundowning” in Alzheimer’s patients. I could show only my most striking behavioral phenotype, and had to hand-wave through the rest of the model, and I still barely made it off the stage with 2 seconds left on the big clock.

Several talks really embodied brevity as the soul of wit, and turned their research story into short poems. Nadir Balba explained how light therapy can improve sleep quality in veterans with traumatic brain injuries using only four rhyming lines. Carolyn Jones needed only a limerick to tell the sad tale of a prairie vole who couldn’t form long-term social bonds due to cortical disruptions brought on by early-life sleep disruptions.

Our plenary speaker Dr. Luis de Lecea also chose the poetic route, and although he did run over his two minutes of alloted time, his verses and videos told the graphic story of hypocretin-positive neurons and their influence on sex drive in mice.

Even though I was only a first-timer, I was not alone in calling the 2018 DataBlitz a rousing success. Out of 615 sleep/circadian relevant abstracts at the SFN meeting, 21 presenters powered through a minute of rapid fire information presented to ~3-400 audience members. In under 30 minutes, 100 cumulative years of research on at least 7 model organisms was rushed, sang, and rhymed (with only 2 presenters running long and earning boos!) until the data overload could be washed down with sliders, wine, and beer.

I’ve only just gotten home and I’m already excited for DataBlitz 2019.

Benjamin Bell
PhD Candidate, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, Mark Wu Lab

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