Highlights from #KSDNA 2015 (part one)

Hello from Seattle! Shockingly, the border patrol let this suspicious-looking scientist back into the states after my whirlwind week in Whistler, B.C. for the Keystone Symposium joint meeting covering DNA Replication & Recombination and Genomic Instability & DNA Repair.

Aaaaaahhhh, freedom

I had a phenomenal week. The conference organizers put together an amazing docket of talks, the poster sessions were chock-full of exciting research-in-progress, and it was fantastic to socialize with scientists from all over the globe. I even got to go skiing!

Conditions weren't so hot, but OMG look at that VIEW!
Conditions weren’t so hot, but OMG look at that VIEW!

I could easily write thousands of words about any one afternoon of the conference (and I, in fact, did, ramble on extensively about CRISPRs and synthetic lethality); however, I wanted to take a moment to briefly highlight some of my favorite moments from the first part of the week. I definitely will be re-visiting some of these topics in more depth later (and re-cap the second half of the conference as well). For now, here’s a list (in chronological order) of things that blew my mind during my first two days in Whistler, with links to further information, where appropriate.


Did I mention the mind-blowing scenery?
Did I mention the scenery?

=> John Diffley (who does SERIOUSLY impressive work reconstituting replication initiation in vitro) casually mentioned in his talk that over the course of a half hour’s time, each and every human being synthesizes over 10 billion meters of DNA in their cells.

=> Mike O’Donnell recently reconstituted and solved the structure of the Eukaryotic replication fork. He published the architecture of the leading strand this past summer, and told us some surprising facts about how the protein players on the lagging strand are arranged at the meeting.

=> James Berger (who did some truly elegant work to demonstrate that the helicase-loader protein in bacteria breaks open the helicase protein’s hexametric ring structure to put it on the DNA) has started to learn some really interesting things about regulation of replication initiation by phage proteins. As I mentioned in my CRISPR post, phages are EVERYWHERE; Berger called these abundant entities “biological dark matter,” they’re in almost all bacterial genomes, but we still don’t understand everything they’re doing.

Phages are so cool.
Phages are so cool.

=> Antoine van Oijen is doing some AMAZING work to visualize individual polymerase molecules inside living cells. His findings might revolutionize how we think about the spatiotemporal regulation of Y-Family polymerases. Given that my own research has revealed some new roles for these molecular in B. subtilis, I was particularly excited to learn about the peculiar way these proteins behave in E. coli.

=> Tom Steitz might win the “most quotable” award during his candid talk covering the architecture of the bacterial replisome (in particular the arrangement of primase in regards to the helicase). His talk was the first time I ever heard a nobel prize winner say “Everything below here is believable, I’ve been very skeptical about the rest, but it might be right,” when describing his own structural model.

=> Steve Kowalczykowski‘s in vitro work visualizing recombination (specifically RAD51 loading by BRCA2) is a technical tour de force.

=> Daniel Durocher’s talk on the cell-cycle regulation of DNA double-strand break repair was mind expanding for this microbiologist. Bacteria are always in S-phase, it was cool to think that us multi-cellular organisms decide to repair our DNA by different mechanisms, depending on when the damage occurs. Durohcer also raised a, quite salient, question of nomenclature: how should scientists refer to genome-edited “knock-out” cell lines to avoid confusion with other genetic approaches?

=> Ralph Scully gave a great short talk about recombination after replication runs into a roadblock. He invoked “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” as well as Facebook to make his points. I always appreciate the value of a good metaphor for effective scientific communication.

=> My boss, Houra Merrikh, totally crushed her talk, and presented some provocative evidence that DNA replication rates inside living cells might be much more dynamic than previously thought.

My boss is kinda awesome. Remember that time we got picked up in a patriotic limo?
My boss is kinda awesome. Remember that time we got picked up in a patriotic limo?

=> Francesca Storici demonstrated that yeast can use an RNA template to direct DNA repair by homologous recombination. I cannot overstate how truly strange and amazing this finding is for the DNA-repair field, or the innovation and creativity required to convincingly demonstrate these results.

=>Last, but not least. I presented my poster (Replication restart after conflicts with transcription requires recombination in B. subtilis) on Tuesday evening! I had a great time talking about my results with experts in the field, and I got some excellent feedback.

EXPLAINING replication restart requires red wine in H. sapiens
EXPLAINING replication restart requires red wine in H. sapiens

Stay tuned for my highlights from the second half of the conference! There will be glacier-skiing, R-Loops galore, and scientists getting DOWN on the dance floor!

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