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CoB Workshop: Epigenetic Memory

Posted by , on 26 June 2012

After nearly 20 hours of traveling, I have arrived at the stately house Wiston in the English countryside county of West Sussex, England. Before even getting out of the car, I find it easy to shrug off the jet lag and fatigue; perhaps it has something to do with the serene landscape of green hills dotted with grazing sheep. Or, perhaps the Wiston House itself, which apparently dates back to 1573. I’m not exactly how to come to grips with that – I’m American after all; we think anything over 100 years old is historical.  Regardless, I’m quickly jolted back by the corporal reality of my own stench. I simply feel gross from my travels, so quickly, I head off to my room – a comfy little spot in an adjoining cottage next to a gothic styled church. I am relieved to discover that my room has all the modern amenities, but most importantly a shower.

Soon after returning, Nicky Le Blond announces that there will be an absolutely critical amendment to the meeting schedule. That instead of the allotted 1 hour, at 15 past 8 for a poster session, everyone is welcome to adjourn to the library for the European Cup match quarter final match between Italy and England.  After all, one must have their priorities. However, being American I can’t really say that is where my heart lays.

2 pm arrives quickly, bells ring and everyone quickly reconvenes in the converted Ballroom; the Epigenetics Meeting has begun.

Sir John Gurdon kicks off the meeting asking everyone, that in the spirit of this meeting/workshop to keep two themes in mind, both of which are centered on the concept of stability of the epigenetic mark. He suggests that after heritable marks are initiated one can consider two mechanisms that allow for their persistence or memory of these marks: one, a constant repeated reprogramming where the mark is constantly maintained and therefore readily perturbable, and/or, two, a stable mark that once initiated requires no maintenance. It’s unclear to me whether the two are mutually exclusive. Lastly, before handing over the microphone to Helen Blau, co-organizer of the meeting and first chair of the first session, he asks everyone to consider the cell cycle and memories that are cell cycle dependent.

After the first session, I am not only impressed with the lively discussion, and at time heated debates, amongst the participants, but the diverse representation from the participants — from the wide eyed graduate students to the seasoned meeting veterans and iconic figures.

Complete with a cast of provocateurs, amoungst the backdrop of the absolutely gorgeous setting of the Wiston House, I am certain that this meeting with make lasting memories that will persist throughout my scientific career, not however, requiring constant maintenance. However, jury is still out on issue of cell cycle dependency.

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