Chromatin Epigenetics Comes to Victoria BC

With its majestic lines and stunning outlook over Victoria Harbor, attending a conference at the Fairmont Empress Victoria might appear to be more “junket” than serious forum for the exchange of scientific ideas – but that would be a gross misrepresentation. As part of Dovetail Genomics’ (Part of Cantata Bio LLC) event sponsorship, this Dovetail employee had the privilege of attending and this is a summary of my takeaways.

With the return of Keystone’s in person meetings, joint sessions entitled “Epigenetics, Chromatin, Development and Disease” and “Chromatin Architecture in Development and Human Health” delivered cutting edge science and lively discussion focusing on the role of transcription, development, and human disease spanning cancer, autism, inherited and neurological disorders. Technologies, such as ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, single-molecule tracking microscopy (SMTM; a technique used to study the dynamics and behavior of individual molecules), and Hi-C, powered the groundbreaking research showcased in this year’s event.

New for 2023 and driven by burgeoning research into pioneer factors, was a heavy shift in focus from the euchromatin to the heterochromatic regions of the genome. Pioneer factors are unique in their ability to bind to closed chromatin regions that are otherwise inaccessible to other transcription factors. By binding to these closed regions, pioneer factors remodel the chromatin structure, making it accessible to other regulatory proteins, thereby enabling gene expression to be switched on.

Consistent with previous years, nuclear condensates (so called speckles) and their role in transcription remained a hot topic. However, new on this subject is work performed using SMTM combined with 3D genomic interactions to shed new light on the long-standing speckle phenomena.

One significant highlight of the conference was the emergence of Micro-C, a high resolution version of Hi-C, as the new 4D Nucleome gold standard for 3D genomics. Uniquely enabled by its superior resolution, researchers were using Micro-C contact maps to reveal previously undetectable chromatin contacts. Several new 3D genomics bioinformatic tools, aimed at reducing the infrastructure required for the computation of large datasets, were presented. These tools additionally enable improved command-line-based plotting and make significant strides towards non-binned analysis for the identification of chromatin TADs and loops.

In summary, I am pleased to report that, despite the three-year pandemic-induced hiatus of this chromatin-centric conference, the spirit embodied by this symposium and research advances have not missed a beat.