EMGS conference features NIEHS scientists in key roles
By Robin Arnette
Smith-Roe designs experiments to evaluate the genotoxic potential of chemicals, and reviews and evaluates results for inclusion in the NTP technical reports. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
As DNA damage and repair experts from around the world travelled to North Carolina, NIEHS researchers prepared to talk science with their colleagues.
They all met at the 48th annual Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) meeting Sept. 9-13 at the Raleigh, N.C., Convention Center. NIEHS scientists and postdocs contributed to the conference as organizers, session chairs, and presenters.
"EMGS continued a long tradition of presenting top-notch science and demonstrating support for early career scientists," remarked Stephanie Smith-Roe, Ph.D., National Toxicology Program (NTP) genetic toxicologist. She said the rich variety of topics at the conference kept attendees interested and engaged in discussions.
Smith-Roe was highly involved in the meeting. She presented a research poster, co-chaired several committees, led special interest groups and platforms sessions, and collaborated with NIEHS librarians on a bibliometric assessment of the EMGS.
Spotlight on NIEHS research
Ramaiahgari has extensive experience working with various 3-D models of liver, kidney, breast, and prostate cancer cells. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
The goal of EMGS is to promote research into the causes and consequences of DNA damage, so it was fitting that Samuel Wilson, M.D., head of the NIEHS DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group, gave one of the meeting’s four keynote speeches. Wilson’s lecture on the "Ins and Outs of Base Excision Repair" featured some of the work his group has done on enzymes that repair damaged DNA.
Other NIEHS scientists also gave oral presentations during the meeting. Janine Santos, Ph.D., staff scientist in the Mammalian Genome Group, talked about what happens to the epigenome of an organism if it has dysfunctional mitochondria.
Sreenivasa Ramaiahgari, Ph.D., an Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) fellow in the Molecular Toxicology and Genomics Group, discussed use of in vitro models and high-throughput technologies in genetic toxicology.
A seminar from the head of the Mechanisms of Genome Dynamics Group, Dmitry Gordenin, Ph.D., focused on the prevalence of APOBEC cytidine deaminases in certain human cancers.
Gordenin was not the only one from his research group to be featured at the EMGS meeting. IRTA fellow Cynthia Sakofsky, Ph.D., won first place in the New Investigator Poster competition, and visiting fellow Natalie Saini, Ph.D., won the Young Scientist Award. For more about the video Saini created that won the award, see the article in the Environmental Factor.
The following scientists helped make the EMGS meeting a success.
Kristine Witt, head of the NTP Genetic Toxicology Group, and Alex Merrick, Ph.D., lead of the NTP Molecular Toxicology and Genomics Group, organized and chaired a symposium on Whole Exome Sequencing in Clinical and Environmental Disease.
Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D., health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch, served on the Program Committee and chaired a forum on the review of NIH grant applications.
Scott Williams, Ph.D., deputy chief of the NIEHS Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, presented "Molecular Mechanisms of Double Strand Break Repair."
Stephen Ferguson, Ph.D., chemist in NTP Molecular Toxicology and Genomics Group, presented "Development of Organotypic Culture Systems to Link Pathway Perturbations with Phenotypic Responses."
Warren Casey, Ph.D., director of the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, co-chaired a symposium on New Approaches and Considerations for Assessing Chemical Safety in a Computational and a High-Throughput In Vitro Toxicology World.
Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., biologist in the NIEHS DNA Replication Fidelity Group, co-chaired a platform session on Epigenetics and DNA Repair Dynamics.
Natalie Gassman, Ph.D., former NIEHS postdoc, who is now an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama, served as the New Investigator Program Chair.
Melike Caglayan, Ph.D., research fellow in the NIEHS DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group, gave an oral presentation on "Pol Gamma and FEN1 Fail to Complement Aprataxin Deficiency for Removal of an Adenylated DNA Repair Intermediate During Mitochondrial Base Excision Repair."
Panelists from the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training
Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., Hazardous Substances Research Branch
Alfonso Latoni, Ph.D., Scientific Review Branch
Kim McAllister, Ph.D., Genes, Environment, and Health Branch
Les Reinlib, Ph.D., Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch
Leroy Worth Jr., Ph.D., Scientific Review Branch
Birnbaum stresses work-life balance
NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., delivered this year’s Women in the EMGS Luncheon address. After meeting participants enjoyed a delicious meal, Birnbaum encouraged them, as women scientists, to strike a good work-life balance.
In "My Career: A Winding Path," she told the story of how she juggled a growing family and a successful science career. As the mother of three children, she found that working part time, when her kids were young, made everything easier to manage.
"For me, family always comes first," Birnbaum said. "I loved the science, but I also loved being home."
Birnbaum said she met her husband in summer camp, and they have been married for 50 years. During their time together, they supported each other’s career moves.
From her early days as a visiting professor teaching molecular genetics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to her time as head of the Experimental Toxicology Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and now as director of NIEHS and NTP, Birnbaum always found a way to make it all work.
"It was important for me to spend several years on a slightly slower track," she said, "because it laid the groundwork for me to be extremely productive when I got back to full time."
Birnbaum said she had teachers and other mentors throughout her life that taught her it was okay to like science. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)