Yesterday was the first day of the meeting on the "Evolution and core processes in gene regulation". A small conference (~75 people) interested in various aspects of gene regulation. As I mentioned in a previous post, the participants represent a really diverse mix of biologists interested in gene regulation (how, where why genes are turned on and off), including many who do not speak a common "scientific" language.
To start with, Chicago surprised all of us by having truly pleasant weather for late July. Crisp, dry and not too hot. That always helps perk everyone up.
The diversity of talks was represented right from the very first session with talks ranging from using experimental evolution to examine questions relating to evolution of regulatory function (Saeed Tavazoie), to very mechanistic analysis of enhancers that regulate different tissues in different ways (from Scott Barolo). I did some fairly extensive tweeting (@IanDworkin, #genereg) on what was presented. However there were a few highlights (for me and my own work).
The work from the Barolo lab tearing apart the enhancers of the Patched gene (regulated by the transcription factor Gli mediating hedgehog signaling pathway) was really neat and I am still mulling around the findings in my head. We know that some proteins bind to DNA, and some of these proteins (called transcription factors) help to regulate gene expression. Sometimes turning genes on, sometimes turning them off. In this case the transcription factor Gli (or as we call it in Drosophila, cubitus interruptus) can take on two forms, one called an activator, the other as a repressor. It turns out that while both of these forms bind to the same general binding sites (DNA words that sometimes can be spelled a bit differently analogous to "colour" and "color"), how tightly they bind (depending on the spelling) matters. More importantly it matters that some of the sites allow the protein to bind tightly, and others weakly. Having the weak binding sites matters (and it matters that they are weak).
I also really enjoyed the approach that Nir Yakoby was taking to understand the evolution of developmental mechanisms underlying how the shell of the egg for fruit flies was patterned. His lab is taking both a cool approach to thinking about regions of gene expression (gene X is expressed here, here and here, but not here), and how it relates to evolution of the eggshell.
Justin Fay (one of the organizers), also talked about one of his model systems using yeast, and how variation throughout one particular gene (FZF1) was important for yeast to grow in the presence of sulfite (think wine - yeast - sulfites....). The take home message (for me anyways) was that the whole gene had a signature of natural selection (between species), and that the differences in the DNA in many places across the gene seem to contribute to the effects with respect to how the yeast can grow with sulfite.
There was far more to the first day to the meeting (check the twitter feed for details) and I can not do it all justice, but hopefully this gives you a small flavour for the meeting. If you attending, post about what got you excited.