Lab retreat links NIEHS researchers, alumni, and collaborators
By Geoffrey Feld
The NIEHS Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory (GISBL) celebrated its inaugural retreat Oct. 6-7 at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. The event brought together NIEHS scientists past and present, as well as external collaborators and mentors, to share research and experiences.
“This is the first retreat of the combined program, merging the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and most of the Laboratory of Structural Biology,” said laboratory head William Copeland, Ph.D., as he convened the meeting. “What we envisioned was a synergistic interaction between these two laboratories, and I think that’s what we’re having, ” he added.
The retreat featured lectures from invited professors, as well as shorter talks and posters by trainees and staff. In a tradition dating to the 2012 retreat of the Laboratory of Structural Biology, poster presenters participated in Poster Flash, a series of two-minute introductions delivered to the group. The format inspired innovation, as biologist Scott Gabel, of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Group, summarized his data on the DNA repair protein XRCC1 in campaign promise fashion, to rousing applause.
Highlighting personal connections among researchers provided one of the retreat’s themes. Postbaccalaureate fellow Chris Crowl, from the Environmental Genomics Group, introduced the first invited speaker — his undergraduate mentor,Terry Furey, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Furey reported on an ongoing NIEHS-funded collaborative project that studies the effects of exposure to 1,3-butadiene, a plastic processing byproduct, in mice.
Current trainees attended a special session with trainee alumni of GISBL and its predecessors. The alumni had diverse scientific careers in academics, program management, project management, and medical writing. After describing their duties and the skills necessary to obtain and excel at their jobs, the alumni joined in a panel discussion to answer questions from the lab’s current trainees.
Repairing and organizing DNA
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry (see related story ), announced on the second day of the retreat, was awarded for contributions to a topic at the center of the lab’s research, DNA repair.
In his lecture on the DNA repair protein TREX1, Fred Perrino, Ph.D., of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, told of a competition that turned into a collaboration with new Nobel Laureate Tomas Lindahl, Ph.D. “There couldn’t be a better person to win the Nobel Prize,” Perrino said.
Although many of the talks on genome integrity focused on mutations of single or a few DNA base pairs, guest speaker Kerry Bloom, Ph.D., of UNC, presented what he called the 10,000-foot view of chromosomes, which are the complex organizational units of DNA. Using computational methods based solely on thermodynamic principles, combined with fluorescent imaging of live yeast cells, Bloom’s lab developed a testable model of a chromosome that may explain why its structure is largely retained from yeast to humans.
The responsibility of planning, coordinating, and executing the retreat was carried out by GISBL Trainee Action Committee (TAC) volunteers. For their hard work, committee advisor and senior scientist Michael Resnick, Ph.D., honored the retreat planning committee with the Noble Effort Prize, a nod to the Nobel Prize announcement. “I feel very fortunate to be able to work with that group,” he said.
(Geoffrey Feld, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Genome Stability Structural Biology Group.)