Back in Seattle after some SERIOUS science!

Happy Saturday scoundrels! I made it back to Seattle after a whirlwind week in Itasca, Illinois. The reason I packed up and made a pilgrimage to our country’s great-flat-middle was for a scientific conference titled: Dynamic DNA structures in biology.

Never fly without compression socks or selfie opportunities: that’s my motto!

This conference (which I affectionately called DNA disneyland) was one of the most incredible experiences of my academic life, so far. I met some of the pioneer scientists in my field: people who DISCOVERED the processes I work on every day, or developed systems and techniques I use in my own research. I was a little nervous to meet some of these people at first; it’s strange to shake hands with someone who you’ve cited extensively. I had nothing to be afraid of, though: everybody could not have been more friendly, and the conversation could not have been more stimulating. After all, the people I admire are still PEOPLE; all of these hot shot scientists were shithead graduate students just like me at the beginning of their careers.

Well, maybe not just like me. I doubt they spent as much time as I do making banana phone calls.

We spent a week staying at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa. The rooms were comfortable, they had an olympic length (though shallow) swimming pool so I could swim laps, and, most importantly, there was oatmeal available every morning.

Thank GOD. On the last day I went totally crazy and tried the grits…I was unimpressed

The conference was jam-packed with talks on topics ranging from DNA stability and fragility in human cells to nano-scale DNA structures.


We thought a LOT about how DNA molecules wind themselves, unwind themselves, tie themselves up in knots, make non-canonical structures, and do genetic gymnastics.

Did you know that one of the most common causes of autism is Fragile X syndrome? Fragile X syndrome happens when a repeated sequence in your DNA gets repeated way way WAY to many times, and literally makes the X chromosome unstable. We learned about what happens with the DNA to make this happen.

The chromosome isn’t supposed to look all fragile like that. Source:

I use bacteria to study DNA replication. However, the PROCESS of replication is surprisingly similar from bacteria all the way up to humans. The names of the proteins are a little different, but the basic mechanics are pretty consistent. It just goes to show: once nature finds a way to do something that works, it tends to stick with it.

And when something DOESN’T work…well…

I loved hearing talks from established scientists at the top of our field, as well as from up-and-coming post docs on the threshold of exciting discoveries. It was fun to hear about research in other organisms than my buddy Bacillus.  It was cool to  learn about some of the molecular mechanisms that cause human diseases (Huntington’s, Autism, Cancer: all of these are caused by mutations in DNA). I took an entire notepad full of notes, and I came up with a few exciting ideas for my own project.

Scientific progress is 100% fueled by snacks.

I presented a poster of my own research, and got excellent feedback. I also got a few suggestions for some control experiments that I need to run, to make my story more complete.


The conference’s schedule was mostly jam-packed with science and schmoozing. However we had a fun organized group outing on the last day. Everyone loaded up into a charter bus, braved rush hour traffic, and escaped suburbia to explore the big city of Chicago.

The boss and I and the Chicago skyline

We took a guided architectural boat tour. We floated up the Chicago River our guide educated us about some of the city’s spectacular Art Deco, Modern, and Post Modern buildings.

The old post office is an Art Deco classic. I loved this building
Another shot of the post office, with the corn-cob towers in the background
Trump Tower is a modern eye-sore. I was NOT a fan of this building, nor the giant Trump Stamp

It was great to experience the city from the river, and learn about the history and design of the buildings. I know absolutely nothing about architecture, I was fascinated to learn about the decision making process that goes into designing a building.

The boat also served a KILLER bloody mary

I never could LIVE in Chicago. I need more green spaces and access to mountains in my life. Nevertheless, it was an interesting city to visit; I wish that I had a little more time to explore on my own.

This past week was fantastic: enriching, educational, energizing, and exhausting. I’m already counting down the days until I can go back to DNA Disneyland. The conference runs every two years, so I’m not sure where my science will take me by then, but I hope that it will take me back to this amazing meeting.

I hope everybody had a GROOVY week last week!

Have you been to Chicago before? What did you like the most about it?

Got any questions about DNA? Wanna learn what an R-Loop or a G4 Quadruplex is?

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