The ASBMB Special Symposia on Evolution and Core Processes in Gene Regulation

August 30, 2013

The ASBMB Special symposia on Evolution and Core Processes in Gene Regulation was held at the University of Chicago July 25–28, 2013.   The meeting promised, ” Organisms have evolved a diverse set of mechanisms to orchestrate the expression of their genes. The core machinery of gene expression is both instrumental to this process but is also subject to the ever changing needs required to survive and reproduce. This special symposium aims to bring together current perspectives on regulatory evolution with mechanistic insights into gene expression.”    A diverse crowd was in attendance with backgrounds in evolution, molecular biology, computers science, mathematics, developmental biology, and likely others.

In general, the goal of the meeting was to highlight efforts aimed at understanding general truths that underly the evolution of transcriptional regulation.  lya Ruvinsky, one of the organizers,  categorized efforts into two broad approaches:  1) studying individual cases or 2) generating large datasets.   His talk described an exceptionally elegant example of the individual loci approach.   Aviv Regev gave a nice talk on the power and capabilities of the large data approach.   While many of the talks fell into those two broad categories, there were also a number of talks focused on improving our understanding of transcription itself including discussions of pausing (Julia Zeitlinger and Robert Landick), structure (Zachary Burton and Seth Darst), and splicing fidelity (Jonathan Staley).
Overall, the meeting showcased an exceptional lineup of talks, but I’ll only highlight a few here:


  • Saeed Tavzoie kicked off the meeting with a nice talk that highlighted two recent papers.  First, he summarized his 2008 work on how can can predict upcoming environment changes (doi: 10.1126/science.1154456) and then discussed their more recent work (doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003617) highlighting the value of loss of function mutations in adaptation.
  • Barack Cohen gave a talk on his recently published (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1307449110) work on Crx recognition using high throughput report assays.   This work highlights how little we understand about the sequence context necessary around a motif to give rise to both binding and expression.
  • There were several good talks on modeling.  My favorite two were David Arnosti, who spoke on their quantitative modeling framework for looking at enhancer function and evolution, and Zeba Wunderlich, whose model focuses on patterns of divergence between Drosophilia species (doi:10.1038/msb.2012.35).
  • Ian Dworkin highlighted how important genetic background is to phenotype.   This work has since been published (doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003661).
  • John Reinitz talked about how function is conserved in the face of non-conservation of sequence  (doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003243).



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