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EMBO|FEBS Lecture Course

Venice summer school 2022: The character concept in metabolic, physiological, and developmental evolution

22 – 26 August 2022 | Venice, Italy

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  • Registration Deadline
  • 30 April 2022
  • Abstract Submission Deadline
  • 30 April 2022
  • Chosen Participants Will Be Notified By
  • 15 May 2022
  • Payment Deadline
  • 30 June 2022

Apply now!

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About the EMBO-FEBS Lecture Course

The concept of “characters” lies at the heart of many central issues in evolutionary biology. Characters distinguish taxa, cause fitness differences, and generally are the fundamental units of comparison for studies of phenotypic evolution. Historically, the concept of characters originated in morphology and comparative anatomy, where it was intimately connected to the issue of homology. At the same time, characters in evolutionary genetics have been understood as the effective dimensions along which a population is evolving. Both the more historical and functional conceptions of biological characters presuppose that phenotypes are modular enough that it makes sense to compare or model parts of organisms directly rather than whole organisms. Today, the notion of characters or traits is increasingly used to describe dynamic lower-level phenomena such as metabolic, physiological, and developmental processes. This raises a number of challenging but interesting conceptual issues. How can we define characters or traits when the object under study is a process? Is it possible to modularize regulatory mechanisms into quasi-independent characters? What light can contemporary systems biology shed on the partitioning of the phenotype into characters? We do not yet have answers to these important questions.

We have gathered a select group of empirical investigators and theoreticians from the fields of biochemistry, physiology, developmental biology, and evolutionary biology together with mathematical modelers, and philosophers of biology to discuss how characters can be defined, identified, and characterized in the age of integrative systems biology. Is it still useful to talk about characters? And if so, what should the concept incorporate to guide research in the right direction? Evolutionary biology lies at the very heart of biology. Therefore, this topic is relevant far beyond its boundaries. Properly tackling it requires the kind of transdisciplinary exchange of ideas and approaches we are planning to implement in this course.

The summer school is mainly aimed at early-stage (PhD or postdoc) empirical and theoretical researchers with a general background and/or interest in developmental and/or evolutionary biology. More senior investigators are welcome to apply as well. Exceptions can be made for motivated masters students. Participants of previous Venice Summer Schools in Evo-Devo are expressly encouraged to reapply as this course has an entirely different topic than previous editions. The course will equip participants with the conceptual tools to engage in a productive discussion of the notion of “characters,” and to relate this notion to their own research questions and explanations.

About EMBO Courses and Workshops

EMBO Courses and Workshops are selected for their excellent scientific quality and timelines, provision of good networking activities for all participants and speaker gender diversity (at least 40% of speakers must be from the underrepresented gender).

Organisers are encouraged to implement measures to make the meeting environmentally more sustainable.







  • Registration Deadline
  • 30 April 2022
  • Abstract Submission Deadline
  • 30 April 2022
  • Chosen Participants Will Be Notified By
  • 15 May 2022
  • Payment Deadline
  • 30 June 2022



Registration includes:

The fee is all-inclusive and covers:

  • Accommodation in shared double rooms at the Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli ( close to the famous Accademia bridge and museum in Venice, at the same location the lectures take place.
  • Breakfast and lunch, plus a welcome dinner on Monday evening (dinner on the other days of the course is self-provided).


Payment of the registration fee should be done via the registration system. Selected participants will receive instructions in due time.

Selection criteria

Applications should include a short academic CV, motivation letter, and a mini-abstract for the elevator pitch (for those who would like to present one).

Applicants will be chosen mainly based on their stated motivation and interest in the topics of the course. The CV will be consulted to ensure that the applicant has the required background to be able to follow the course. The research abstract is not part of the selection procedure.

Abstract guidelines

Abstracts for elevator pitches should be no longer than 100 words and clearly summarize the research project of the participant (which does not have to be directly related to the topic of the course, but if a connection exists, please mention it).

The abstract should be accessible to researchers with a broad range of backgrounds, from experimental biology, to mathematical modeling, to the philosophy of science.

Elevator pitches will be limited to a duration of 2-3 min, and a maximum of 2 slides (only if necessary for the presentation). The aim of the elevator pitch session is to acquaint the participants with each others’ research interests at the beginning of the course.

Travel Grants and Registration Fee Waivers

A limited number of travel grants and registration fee waivers are available for participants.

Applicants do not need to apply separately for these but should indicate on the registration form if they wish to be considered.

Selection of awardees is handled directly by the organizers. Priority is given to participants of any nationality working in laboratories in Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey, as well as from EMBC Associate Member States Chile, India, Singapore and Taiwan. More information is available on the EMBO Travel Grants' page.

Child care grant

EMBO Courses and Workshops offers grants to offset additional child care costs incurred by participants or speakers when participating at any EMBO Courses and Workshop funded meeting. Eligible costs include fees for a caregiver or child-care facility, travel costs for a caregiver, or travel costs for taking the child to the meeting etc. Please indicate on the registration form whether you would like to be considered for the grant. Please also describe how you intend to use the child care grant and specify the sum that you will need.



Johannes Jaeger





by Johannes Jaeger by Luca Livraghi

Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli
Rio Terà Foscarini, 909/A
30123 Dorsoduro,
Venice, Italy

Phone: + 39 041 522 4077
Fax: +39 041 528 6214

Venue images by Johannes Jaeger and Luca Livraghi, respectively


The Cultural Centre Don Orione Artigianelli is located inside an old monastery in the centre of Venice. Accommodation and breakfast/lunch are included in the registration fee, and will be provided in the building complex where the lectures are held. The monastery is organized around a central courtyard where coffee breaks and small group discussions will take place. All rooms are spacious, bright and overlook the gardens or cloisters. They are equipped with air conditioning, WI-FI, private bathroom with shower, safe, hairdryer, and telephone. Buffet breakfast is provided at the Centro, and lunch will be served at the Restaurant San Trovaso, which is associated with the centre. The building has been recently restored and equipped with the latest technology to host conferences and meetings.


By plane from Marco Polo Airport in Venice:

The most scenic and stylish way to approach Venice is to take the water bus (vaporetto) operated by Alilaguna (blue line) and get off at Zattere (takes about 1.5 hours, but is well worth it). Walk along the wide street in front of you for about 150 meters. You will find the entrance to the Centro at No. 909/a to your left (in front of the S. Agnese church).

The faster and cheaper option is to take the ATVO bus, or ACTV bus No. 5, from the airport to Piazzale Roma.

From Piazzale Roma, you can take the water bus (vaporetto) lines No. 1 or 2 in direction of S. Marco along the Canal Grande. Get off at Accademia. Keep to the left and take the Rio Terà Foscarini on your right. After 200 meters, you will find the entrance of Don Orione at No. 909/a to your right (in front of the S. Agnese church).

By plane, from San Giuseppe Airport in Treviso:

Take the ATVO bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma. From there, follow the instructions above.

By train, from Venezia S. Lucia station:

Leave the station by turning right and crossing a small canal to the Piazzale Roma. From there, follow the instructions above.

By car:

After crossing the Ponte della Libertà into Venice, you can park at the Tronchetto Interparking. From there, take water bus (vaporetto) line No. 2 in direction of S. Zaccaria and get off at Zattere. Walk along the wide street in front of you for about 150 meters. You will find the entrance to the Centro at No. 909/a to your left in front of the S. Agnese church.

Alternatively, park at the Piazzale Roma parking. From Piazzale Roma to Don Orione, follow the instructions above.

If you don’t have too much luggage and are not daunted by the challenge of navigating the labyrinthine streets of Venice, we also recommend walking from Piazzale Roma to Don Orione. It only takes about 20 min and it's extremely scenic. At your own risk of getting lost though!

About the Area

Venice is a car-free city. The entire city centre is walkable within a reasonable amount of time. Don Orione is about 15 min walk from San Marco, with many of Venice’s main sights in close distance. The city is very quiet and safe. Be aware that most restaurants and bars close quite early. Dinner prices at restaurants are rather steep, but the organisers know an affordable pizzeria, and there are a number of student bars around the Campo Santa Margarita that should help you avoid financial ruin.

Do take some time before or after the meeting to explore Venice. It is a unique and spectacular place!

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