I recently attended the EMBL Transcription and Chromatin meeting in Heidelberg, Germany (27.08-30.08.2016), one of the most important events in the field of epigenetics. The meeting comprised 62 densely packed talks and an impressive number of posters (293). The main topics permeating the meeting gravitated toward Polycomb-mediated transcriptional regulation and complex composition, the increasingly better understood role of enhancers in gene regulation, and the development of new ways of looking at the dynamic states of the genome. The meeting included talks from many scientists whose work has really driven the field in recent years like Wolf Reik, Ali Shilatifard, Bas van Steensel, Danny Reinberg, Anne Brunet and Thomas Jenuwein. It is difficult to mention all the exciting work showcased in this conference, but I will focus on some highlights illustrating the breadth of topics covered.
Ana Pombo from Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine (Germany) talked about a novel way of identifying genome-wide multidimensional chromatin interactions (Genome Architecture Mapping or GAM). GAM involves sectioning the nucleus and observing the frequency of 2 loci being present in the same slice. This approach allowed Prof. Pombo’s group to conclude that many regulatory regions often interact with each other in the same nucleus.
Zhe Liu from Janelia Research Campus (USA) gave a visually spectacular talk on a technique his lab managed to develop to facilitate super-resolution single-molecule imaging in a living cell. He presented data on enhancer-binding pluripotency factors finding their preferred genomic location in embryonic stem cells. The technique relied on a lattice light sheet microscope and had the sensitivity of distinguishing between specific and non-specific binding events.
Brian Hendrich from the University of Cambridge presented intriguing data on the NuRD (Nucleosome Remodelling and Deacetylation) complex. While NuRD had been historically associated with transcriptional repression, Prof. Hendrich’s lab saw that the complex binds mainly active enhancers and promoters and is capable of both activating and repressing transcription.
Tony Kouzarides from the Gurdon institute presented data on RNA methylation. Part of his talk focused on the relationship between RNA epigenetics and cancer. His group found that RNA methylase enzymes from the METTL family are important for the viability of leukaemic cells containing the translocation AML-AF9.
Stirling Churchman from Harvard Medical School talked about the evolution of promoter directionality. Her group wanted to understand the origin of bidirectional promoters and transcription. Conducted in yeast, her lab’s work showed that promoters of young genes tended to have higher frequency of bidirectionality. The work further suggested that, in lieu of evolutionary pressures, promoters are inherently bidirectional.
To my great delight, I was fortunate enough to get my abstract chosen for an oral presentation. Getting over the fear of presenting straight after Ali Shilatifard, I talked about the role of MLL3 and MLL4 histone methyltransferases in stem cell function in flatworms. I presented data Mll3/4 loss of function phenotype in flatworms leads to tumour formation driven by stem cell hyperplasia, very exciting given that the human orthologs are tumour suppressors. I also showed the results from our ChIP-seq and RNA-seq analyses, identifying genome wide regulatory changes and potential candidate genes explaining the cancer-like phenotype of Mll3/4 loss of function.