Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Emily Biernat

cshl-visitor-emily-biernat

Meet Emily Biernat of Oakland University. The first year PhD student in Dr. Chhabi Govind’s lab is on campus taking part in her inaugural CSHL meeting, Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription, as one of its 350+ poster presenters. Emily’s poster, entitled “The RSC complex coordinates with histone acetyltransferases to regulate chromatin structure and transcription genome-wide in Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” was visited by so many of her fellow meeting participants that “[her] throat went hoarse from speaking too much.” Her first experience of presenting a poster at an international meeting was productive, with “a few even [offering her] new ideas and strains to add to [the] future directions with the project.” As for her thoughts on her first CSHL Meeting? Here’s what she said:

I thought it would be a bunch of scientists getting together to strictly discuss their findings, but I discovered that this meeting is so much more than that. It’s an event where people from all walks of life can come together and make new friends, and share ideas that they are wildly passionate about. I will definitely be attending future meetings.

And we look forward to welcoming Emily again in future iterations of our Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription meeting. Here is the rest of our interview.

What are your research interests; and how did you decide to make this the focus of your work?
My research involves studying how the RSC complex in budding yeast remodels the nucleosomes that package DNA into chromatin using MNase ChIP-seq, and subsequently how mutations in RSC affects chromatin remodeling, interactions with other transcription factors, and transcription. I knew I wanted to get into the field of either genetics or genomics ever since high school. I was curious about RNA interactions with other factors and epigenetic changes within populations. Studying chromatin remodeling allows me to investigate certain epigenetic roles involving histone dynamics and to study the effect this has on the production of various RNAs, such as snRNA. This focus allows me to study all of my scientific interests.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My scientific journey began when I was quite young, at about six years of age. My dad was into science himself, and bought me books on astronomy. I went through those books over and over again like how a kid always runs back to the ice cream truck for more. I always did well in school, particularly in the areas of math and science, so I was always motivated to learn as much as I could in school. I initially wanted to be an astronomer, but I figured out in my high school physics class that physics and astronomy were not the right paths for me. However, around the same time, I had a biology teacher who received her Master's in genetics, and was very passionate about the subject. I quickly became infatuated with genetics myself, and the rest was history.

Was there something specific about the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription Meeting that drew you to attend?
What drew me to the meeting were the vast amount of talks on RSC, SAGA, and how those factors initiate transcription in yeast. Also, world-renowned yeast genetics researchers such as Dr. Steven Hahn were attending the meeting, and I was eager to hear them speak.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
My key takeaway from the meeting is that the study of the mechanisms of transcription is a field more intricate than any new graduate could ever imagine before attending the meeting, and that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of smart, dedicated researchers all working to solve tiny pieces of the puzzle that is transcription.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
I have learned about several methods that I would like to employ in my work. Cut and Run is much less time-consuming, less expensive, and more sensitive than ChIP. I would like to integrate cut and run into our lab’s workflow to use as a preliminary screening for mutants with the desired chromatin remodeling defects associated with RSC that we wish to explore further before we perform ChIP.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell the person that if they have a love for transcription or translation and wish to get into the field, that this is the meeting to attend.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
When I return home, the one thing that will stick with me the most is all of the new, friendly people that I had the pleasure of meeting. I finally got to put faces to the people I have emailed to request strains and protocols, and I must have made at least a dozen new friends so far. I cannot wait to come back for the next meeting!

Thank you to Emily 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.

A Word From: John Lis and Jane Mellor

L to R: Ken Zaret, Fiona Watt, Marius Wernig; Photo by Constance Brukin

In August 2017, we hosted the fifteenth CSHL meeting on Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription (MOET) and spoke with two of the meeting’s organizers: John Lis and Jane Mellor. We discussed the changes made to the meeting, and their impacts, and the organizers’ dedication to safeguarding the history of both the field and meeting.

John: The bulk of the attendees enjoyed the meeting. There are some who have been at this meeting for many decades who are still warming up to the new directions, though. I think by the end of the meeting they’ll understand why things have changed a bit. Changes are useful as long as we don’t forget the history of the meeting.
Jane: People are sometimes afraid of change. There are historical reasons why this meeting has been how it’s been, but it’s refreshing to make changes. I think the meeting now has a feeling of being much more inclusive. There are more talks now, which results in more people getting exposure.
John: And more opportunities. A number of people have been longtime attendees at this meeting but never presented a talk. We asked a few of them to give a talk this time and they were appreciative. We’ve also taken a more egalitarian style for the presentations. Rather than having 20- and 8-minute talks, every talk is 12 minutes long followed by 3 minutes of discussion. We’re trying to just pick talks, not edit or decide who has longer or shorter time slots. Everyone responded pretty well, and the speakers condensed even very complex stories into efficient presentations.
Jane: The quality of the presentations this year is actually much higher than it was when we had different talk lengths. And everybody’s gotten something from the talks: good questions, concise discussions, etc. The more established members of the community contributed older data and observations to the discussions, and that historical context is really useful for younger attendees. We have participants here with the memory of what’s happened to the field over many, many years. This is a really good aspect of this meeting that I think is valuable. 
John: Of course there’s been a substantial change in the science. The transcription field is such a rich playground – with lots of factors, sequences, and information – that it can be problematic for those entering the field. They have to gain a command of the past to use all the tools and techniques. It’s challenging but I think this meeting brings them up to speed. I hope the young folks appreciate the classic stuff that’s been done. And I hope the old folks begin to appreciate the fact that doing things genome-wide and making measurements massively on lots of factors is useful in the context of figuring out how genes are regulated. The genome provides us with the numbers and statistics that enable us to draw conclusions we couldn’t from looking at only one or two genes. It’s come out a couple of times here, where major conclusions were made on small percentages of genes that turned out to be outlier groups. 
Jane: One thing we do realize now is that a lot of genes we studied in the past were outliers. Another change worth mentioning is the evening poster sessions. I’ve always felt that the poster sessions were never long enough: We have so many brilliant posters that a 2-hour session is insufficient. The evening poster sessions – which started at 7:30 and ended whenever everyone was ready – provided a much more relaxed atmosphere. This year, people were still at the posters at 11 PM and no one was rushing around trying to visit all of them. It’s good for the poster presenters as well because there is more opportunity for lengthier conversations. 

The MOET meeting continues to attract senior members of the transcription community:

John: I think this meeting has really good representation from the field.
Jane: I would say that pretty much anyone who’s anyone in the field is here: not everybody, but most people are here. Even though this year’s meeting coincided with an EMBO chromosome transcription meeting, most of the field’s influential people are here, so MOET still has the pull and the cache to make people want to come.

The conversation wrapped up with Jane and John sharing the latest development they were most excited about:

Jane: The structural view of transcription is something that’s really come to fruition this year. According to Patrick Cramer’s talk, we are having a truly mechanistic view of the transcription process. The next big challenge is to bring in the chromosome, but what Patrick showed was just spellbinding and amazing -- model enzymes changing, what Mediator’s doing, what the rest of the PIC’s are doing, etc. Twenty years ago, we could have never predicted that we’d be in a position to do this kind of work. 
John: Structural studies with cryo-EM have been transformative. Another interesting and powerful addition is the genome-wide studies adopted by people in classical biochemistry who extend their analyses genome-wide. And then you add to that the fact that there’s this concept of phase separation, these droplets where things can happen in a very rapid way, so there may be some sort of compartment for these reactions. This has been coming up again and again and I’m beginning to take it seriously; it’s sort of changing my way of thinking.   

MOET returns to the Laboratory in 2019; and during the summer, we offer the Chromatin, Epigenetics and Gene Expression course. For an introduction into the annual course, be sure to read our Q&A with 2017 GNX Alumna Ulrike Boehm.

For more conversation with other meeting organizers, check out the rest of our A Word From series. 

Visitor of the Week: Liguo Dong

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Meet Liguo Dong of the University of Macau (China). The PhD student is studying in the Faculty of Health Sciences and is a member of Chris Wong's lab. On campus for the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription, this is Liguo's first visit to CSHL and already has plans to attend another Cold Spring Harbor meeting in our Asia campus. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My interest is in gene regulatory network, and my work uses a fungi species, Aspergillus nidulans to construct gene regulatory network.

Was there something specific about the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription meeting that drew you to attend?
I was most drawn by the topics covered at this meeting and the high-quality of research that were presented at this meeting in previous years.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
I gained exposure on the background and latest developments around transcription regulation. This was my purpose for attending this meeting and I plan to apply what I have learned here to my research.

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is the first meeting at CSHL I have attended and would like to attend the  2018 Chromatin, Epigenetics & Transcription meting at CSH Asia.

If someone curious in attending the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This meeting is a high-quality gathering of the field's leading researchers. You hear and discuss the latest findings and ideas, and have numerous opportunities to meet others in your field.  

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I most enjoyed listening to and learning of the speakers' work. 

Thank you to Liguo 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.