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Environmental Factor, November 2015

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NIEHS shines at Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society meeting

By Deepa Singh

Myron Goodman

Goodman presented the 2016 EMGS Award lecture (Photo courtesy of Riverview Photography)

Headshot of Michelle Heacock

Heacock, who previously researched causes of cellular toxicity caused by DNA damaging agents, now supports the NIEHS Superfund Research Program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Freudenthal, Gassman, Goodman, and Andres

From left, Freudenthal, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Gassman, an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute, Goodman, and Andres shared a light moment at the awards banquet. (Photo courtesy of Riverview Photography)

NIEHS scientists and grantees met Sept. 26-30 at the 46th Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, and several received awards.

These annual meetings are known for bringing together leading scientists from academia, industry, and government to discuss developments in understanding environmental threats to genomic integrity, which can serve as groundwork for betterment of human health. The meeting featured a wide variety of topics, from DNA damage, DNA repair, and mutagenesis, to heritable effects and epigenetic alterations in genome function.

Award lecture and keynote by NIEHS grantees

NIEHS grantee Myron Goodman, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California, received this year’s EMGS Award for his contributions to the fields of DNA replication and mutation repair. His work has led to advancements in the areas of microbial evolution, cancer therapy, and immune response.

His talk, titled “Better Living with Hyper-Mutation,” shed light on ways the improper regulation of hypermutations, which can be beneficial when tightly regulated, can give rise to haphazard clusters of mutations, which may result in cancer. Hypermutation is a process that helps the immune system respond to new foreign elements.

NIEHS grantee, Leona Samson, Ph.D., gave a keynote presentation. Samson, a recipient of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pioneer Award and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies the effects of alkylating agents on organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. These alkylating agents are toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic and have been used in treating cancer.

“Both Goodman and Samson shared their amazing science and interspersed their lectures with their unique perspectives on what it means to be a scientist,” said Sara Andres, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Genome Stability Structural Biology Group, led by Scott Williams, Ph.D.

New researchers interact with seasoned scientists

Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., a health science administrator in the NIEHS Health Substances Research Branch, pointed out that NIEHS scientists from across the institute presented work during the event. “The meeting provided an opportunity to showcase the basic science conducted at NIEHS, as well as applied fields related to population health and regulatory science,” she said.

The meeting also served as a platform for early career researchers to share their work and interact with seasoned scientists. “EMGS makes it a point to support new investigators by providing great networking opportunities and a platform to showcase their work,” Andres noted.

Exciting science by early career researchers

Emphasizing the strong mentoring history of EMGS, Heacock said, “Some of the platform sessions and special interest group meetings feature talks given by postdocs, graduate students, and new investigators.”

Andres received the Best Talk by a New Investigator award for her presentation, “Ctp1 Orchestrates DNA Binding and Bridging in DNA Repair.” She said she hopes that the connections she has made will be helpful during her search for a position as an independent researcher.

Natalie Gassman, Ph.D., and Bret Freudenthal, Ph.D., former postdocs in the DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group, discussed the exciting research they are doing in their new positions. Both received NIH Pathway to Independence awards (see story).

Gassman described her work on how bisphenol A affects cell survival after oxidative stress. Freudenthal spoke on the genetic and biochemical studies that provide a basis for the mutagenic properties of 5-chlorocytosine, a known inflammation biomarker. He described findings that could suggest a functional link between chronic inflammation and cancer.

(Deepa Singh, Ph.D., is a visiting fellow in the NIEHS Mechanisms of Mutation Group.)

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