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Keystone, like chromatin, all wrapped up

Well the Keystone meeting on Epigenetics and Chromatin Modeling in Development has wrapped, and the reaction from participants was very positive, indication that the epigenetics field -- which has broadened significantly to include much of the chromatin and transcriptional control community -- is set for some significant findings. Many told me that the selection of talks was the best they?d heard in years. ?I didn?t fall asleep during any of them,? said one meeting-goer as we waited for the bu

By | January 26, 2006

Well the Keystone meeting on Epigenetics and Chromatin Modeling in Development has wrapped, and the reaction from participants was very positive, indication that the epigenetics field -- which has broadened significantly to include much of the chromatin and transcriptional control community -- is set for some significant findings. Many told me that the selection of talks was the best they?d heard in years. ?I didn?t fall asleep during any of them,? said one meeting-goer as we waited for the bus. Kudos to Renato Paro and Peter Fraser for choosing great speakers on provocative topics -- including a many great ?short talks? presented by young investigators. (I also commend Peter Fraser?s ability to stop on a dime on the lower part of Elk Run sending me into a fabulous wipeout as I did my best to avoid careening into him). Some fantastic findings are coming. In brief, expect to see a great many more papers on the importance of Polycomb group proteins in flies, worms, mice, and humans. The modular structure and tight controls of these protein complexes -- working both in and possibly out of the nucleus -- place them as epigenetic regulators with few equals. One exception might be the histones. Modifications to histone protein tails continue to excite as a cadre of researchers seek to broaden the list of proteins making, reading, and removing these marks. And new data on the patterns of histone variants used throughout the genome will play an increasingly important role in sussing out whether or not there is a histone code. Proposed by Bryan Turner, C. David Allis, and others several years ago the histone code hypothesis stated that the combination of histone marks, such as methylation on lysines 4, 9, or 27 of histone H3 or acetylation or phosphorylation at various amino acids create a coded docking station for certain chromatin remodeling proteins. No one?s uncovered the code yet, and the dynamic switching in and out of different histones suggests that any such code would likely not be stably inherited. Nevertheless, the hypothesis provides a way for proteins to read and alter different regions of DNA. Non-coding RNAs, which have fundamentally changed nearly every life science field, have done the same here, possibly providing the perfect recognition module for chromatin-remodeling systems. And as basic as the research presented at the meeting tended to be, clinical applicability is more than just for the imagination. The connections between epigenetic signaling and stem-cell maintenance is sure to have great impact as therapies lurch ever closer to fruition. And therapies that alter chromatin structure and composition are already under investigation for cancer. They will continue to receive solid footing from basic research and possibly a few additions in the armamentarium. With a broad spectrum of models and techniques (although admittedly 3C and ChIP were invoked rather heavily), I?ve never been to a meeting where so many were so attentive to the speakers and speakers were so attentive to the clock. The great skiing conditions -- the best, I?m told, in years -- likely had something to do with the latter, but the former was due solely to top notch science.
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