Biology of Genomes Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Rahul Pisupati

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Meet Rahul Pisupati of the Gregor Mendel Institute of the Austrian Academy of Science (Austria). The PhD student in Magnus Nordborg’s lab made the voyage to participate at his first-ever CSHL meeting: The Biology of Genomes. And his inaugural voyage also involved a poster presentation. His poster (entitled “Elucidating causes of methylation variation in Arabidopsis thaliana”) received “many constructive comments” and Rahul is already considering his return to the Lab.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a computational biologist by training and my research interests are at the intersection of quantitative genetics, population genomics and epigenetics. Currently, I am working on population epigenetics in Arabidopsis thaliana, trying to understand various sources shaping methylation variation in natural populations.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Since college, I have always been eager to learn new theories in evolutionary biology. It is really fascinating how principles in population genetics can be extrapolated to understand any group dynamics (even social groups). To some level I wanted to work on some of the exciting questions in the field.

How did your scientific journey begin?
It started during my masters when I went to Dr. Nolan Kane lab at Boulder, Colorado for a summer research position. We had very engaging journal club discussions on classical papers in evolutionary biology.

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend?
Attending this meeting is a great opportunity to share and get feedback from brilliant minds. Also, it is one of the biggest meetings with a focus on population genomics and current technological advances in the field.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
All the talks are excellent, aiming at recent advances in the field. It is very hard to hone in on one takeaway message, but there were many informative talks bridging the gap between genotype and phenotype and single-cell genomics.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you’d like to apply to your work?
Yes, I had many constructive comments on the poster I presented. Also, it feels great to meet people whose papers you were reading.

If someone curious in attending the 2020 iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely recommend they attend this meeting. Submit an abstract for the opportunity to present your work and get the attention of editors of every big journal you know of.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is an amazing campus promoting social life along with scientific advances, and provides one to easily retreat into nature. The events were well-organized and each received a huge level of participation.

Thank you to Rahul for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Brunilda Balliu

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Meet Brunilda “Bruna” Balliu of the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Albanian-Greek national is a postdoctoral fellow in Stephen Montgomery’s lab in the Department of Pathology. Bruna returned to campus for The Biology of Genomes meeting where she presented a poster entitled “Longitudinal study of gene expression and regulation during a critical period of the aging process”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a biostatistician by training and my research interests focus on the development of novel statistical methods for high-dimensional genomic data. Scientifically, I am interested
in aging and am currently profiling changes in transcription regulation that occur during advanced aging in humans.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
After finishing my PhD, I wanted to extend my statistical background into translational genomics research that more directly impact human health. I am fortunate that my postdoctoral advisor, Stephen Montgomery is involved in numerous collaborations because there were plenty of potential projects to select from when I joined his lab. The project on aging jumped out at me for several reasons. First, aging in an undeniably interesting subject. Second, we had access to a first-of-its-kind data set of functional genomics from individuals in their seventies, eighties, and eventually from those in their nineties. Finally, I have a standing interest in statistical methods for longitudinal data. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I did my undergraduate studies in Statistics in Athens, Greece, when the country’s financial crisis began. As I approached graduation, I started looking for a Masters in Finance program but, thankfully, my professors encouraged me to also look for PhD positions in biostatistics. I took the PhD route and the rest is history! 

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend?
This meeting is world-renowned for excellent talks presented by leaders in the field and on their latest work. Since this is a new area for me, I was very excited to attend and gain a broader view of what my colleagues are working on. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
In the past few years, there has been huge progress in both sequencing technology and computational capacities that has allowed researchers to move from observational to large-scale interventional studies. I was impressed by the number of talks presented here based on experiments across multiple species, cell types, environmental conditions etc.     

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
It’s a great place to network since the structure of the meeting encourages people to interact. I’m going back home full of ideas. After seeing Julien Ayroles and Amanda Lea's work on the impact of genetic and environmental perturbations on molecular co-regulation, and talking to Julien, I’m excited about extending my work to understand the impact of aging on gene-gene interactions in humans. 

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This is one of the busiest meetings you will ever attend so get some sleep the week before and leave some room to recover afterwards.

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my second meeting here. I attended the Probabilistic Modeling in Genomics in 2015 and will be attending that same meeting this November.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
It's definitely the conversations. This meeting gives you a lot of time for discussions, and that is a key component of a successful meeting for me. 

Thank you to Bruna for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Photograph provided by Bruna Baillau

A Word From: Dana Pe'er

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This week, we hosted the 30th CSHL meeting of The Biology of Genomes. Over the past three decades, technology in the field has changed; a change that is reflected in the image above. We checked in with Dana Pe'er, a Biology of Genomes meeting organizer and regular, to get her thoughts on the emerging technologies that are showcased front and center at this year's meeting. 

The Biology of Genomes meeting is the highest-quality genome meeting. I think what makes The Biology of Genomes meeting special is its combined goal of making sure to cover in-depth the core questions of the field, while also covering all of the emerging and  leading topics of the genome field so attendees can get up-to-date of what’s going on in genome biology and, yes, it’s really an expanding, growing field so there’s lots of things. The meeting successfully combines and finds a balance between the core questions of the field and the newest most exciting trends and findings. 
As mentioned, this meeting is uniquely dedicated to a core depth. It never forgets the basic, core question of what are the forces that act upon our genomes? How have the genomes evolved? How do complex traits emerge from this genome? The meeting commits a dedicated fraction of the program to discuss the core forces that created this very, very, very complex object and really tries to grapple in a very serious, deep and rigorous scientific way about this object itself and the forces that created it and how it works.
Two exciting, emerging developments in the field are single cell biology and genome editing; both fields are growing at a rapid pace. Single-cell technologies enable us to measure DNA, RNA and epigenetic modifications at a single cell resolution and are opening entire new opportunities in using genomics to unravel biology’s mysteries. Most predominantly single cell RNA-seq is enabling a new understanding of how our genome gets translated into function. So single cell genomic technologies and the opportunities they open, I think, is the most rapidly and most exciting topic in genome biology and we’ve certainly seen some talks about this here.
 
Now, with CRISPR and other genome-editing technologies, we can do amazing things to perturb, probe and alter the genome again opening up previously unimagined questions about genome function into the realm of possibilities. Indeed, we see lots of uses of genome editing in the talks, with CRISPR being the dominant technology. What can be done now that we can manipulate, engineer, synthesize the genome and not just passively observe it? Interestingly, one of the keynotes described how one can combine both CRISPR and single cell RNA-seq to crack open an understanding of cellular circuits and regulation.

Thank you to Dana for taking the time to chat with us. For more conversations with our other meeting organizers and course instructors, go here. Also, to gain a participant's perspective on this meeting, read our Q&A with Federica Di Palma and Andrew Rendeiro.

Visitor of the Week: Federica Di Palma & Andre Rendeiro

This week's edition of Visitor of the Week is a double feature! We approached two meeting participants of The Biology of Genomes meeting - one a newcomer and the other a veteran to this meeting - and below are our individual Q&A chats with Federica di Palma and Andre Rendeiro. Read on to meet them.

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Meet Federica Di Palma, Director of Science of the Earlham Institute (United Kingdom) and Professor of Regulatory Genomics at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom). Federica is back on campus for The Biology of Genomes and to support two junior scientists who she works with and who were each selected to present a talk. Read on for what and why Federica keeps returning for The Biology of Genomes meeting.

What are you working on?
Vertebrate Evolution and Adaptation. One of the projects I have been working on lately is the evolution of traits in cichlid fishes of East African lakes which display explosive speciation and adaptive radiations. We study the evolution of regulatory networks underlying some of the major adaptations in these beautiful fishes.

What is your key takeaway from the Meeting?
Single cells and integration of complex datasets.

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
I have been attending The Biology of Genomes meeting every year since since 2007. This is my 11th meeting and I will plan to continue attending future iterations of this meeting.

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend? 
I love this conference! Cannot miss it! For me, this meeting is the annual spa for the mind in the field I am. Also, the work on cichlids by my talented postdoc, Tarang Mehta was selected for a talk and so was the work on mammalian gene expression evolution of a super talented MIT PhD student Jenny Chen I have had the honor to work with. 

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her? 
Try it once and you are hooked!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The high quality of science presented each year. Also, CSHL is a fantastic place to catch up with colleagues and collaborators.

cshl-visitor-andre-rendeiro

Meet Andre Rendeiro of CeMM Research Centre for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Austria). Andre is a PhD student at Christoph Bock's lab and is on campus for The Biology of Genomes, his very first CSHL meeting. He presented a poster today titled "Pooled CRISPR Screening with Single-Cell Transcriptome Readout". Read on this first-timer's take on the meeting. 

What are you working on?
I study how variation in gene regulation helps explain phenotypes during normal development but more specifically in human leukaemias.

What is your key takeaway from the Meeting?
Knowledge in biology is accelerating at an extraordinary pace and is definitely the science of the 21st century.

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my first and I would most likely attend another one in the near future. 

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend?
I was drawn to the fact that this is a very well-known meeting and it is set in a historic place for science. Additionally, a lot of the talks are relevant to my research topic and it is always great to meet people doing great science in the areas of genomics and gene regulation.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The CSHL campus is beautiful and worth a visit by itself. The meeting has a dense and demanding program but there are still plenty of opportunity to meet and network with other attendees.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I met a lot of great people, and the perfect weather helped me to enjoy the campus.
 

Thank you to Federica and Andre for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course – go here.