A combination of science talks, posters, career advice for trainees, and good-natured competition characterized the annual NIEHS Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory (GISBL) retreat.
Participants in the March 22-23 meeting became better acquainted with the research of other groups in the lab and like-minded scientists from other institutions. The event took place at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency facility, on the same campus as NIEHS.
Staff scientists, trainees, and invited guests made presentations. Organizers built on successes of earlier retreats by including a poster flash session, in which presenters had two minutes and one slide to relay their research to the audience.
The GISBL Retreat Committee (GRC) extended the scientific discussions with a competition for science-inspired cookies. GRC judged the cookies and gave awards to the cookie best inspired by science — Peanut Butter Fudge Mitosis — and the best tasting — Coconut Oatmeal Scotties. The ample supply of cookies was a happy byproduct of the presentations.
“We value the combination of research and technology updates, career insights for trainees, and personal interactions that the retreat provides,” said GISBL Chief William Copeland, Ph.D. “New collaborations build upon the information exchanges that take place here.”
From flow cytometry to DNA replication
Invited speakers covered topics from flow cytometry to DNA replication. Carl Bortner, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Flow Cytometry Center, discussed the center’s services and new techniques for looking at multiple characteristics of cells.
Flow cytometry allows researchers to study several characteristics of single cells. A new technique, called mass cytometry, targets multiple characteristics of many cells. Bortner said it can be extremely useful for determining different types of cells present in a sample — whether cancer cells, immune cells, or other tissue.
Stephen Bell, Ph.D., from Indiana University, shifted gears and discussed DNA replication in Sulfolobus, a microorganism that can survive in extremely hot environments. Sulfolobus contains many proteins with functions similar to those in higher organisms. Bell shared recent findings on how MCM, a protein necessary when cells divide, is brought to DNA.
Former NIEHS trainee Hong Wang, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University, uses single molecule imaging techniques to study how telomeres are maintained. Telomeres are repeating sequences of DNA that are important for protecting the ends of chromosomes.
Hong described a technique she developed, called dual-resonance, frequency-enhanced electrostatic force microscopy, or DREEM, that visualizes DNA within protein-DNA complexes.
Advice from past NIEHS trainees
Retreat organizers also invited former NIEHS trainees to discuss their jobs in academia and industry, and to share advice with current trainees. Several repeated the suggestion to develop connections with people in your desired field, and to start early.
"[Work on] professional development and attend brown bag lunches to get an idea of what types of careers are out there," said former trainee Kelly Daughtry Broccio, Ph.D. She is now a research and development manager for BioResource International, Inc., Durham, North Carolina.
This event would not have been successful without the commitment of the GRC. “The retreat was very successful,” said Sara Andres, Ph.D., GRC chair and a trainee in the Genome Stability Structural Biology Group. “Our invited speakers sparked excellent discussion sessions, while the poster session showcased the exciting work being done by the different research groups within GISBL."
(Salahuddin Syed, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS DNA Replication Fidelity Group.)