Genetics Society Autumn Meeting

09 December 2012

Interview with

Professor Dirk-Jan de Koning

Kat - But now it's time to find out what happened at the Genetics Society Autumn Meeting, which was held at the Royal Society in November and celebrated 25 years of the scientific journal Genes and Development.  Professor Steve West from the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute was awarded the annual Genetics Society medal, and gave a fascinating lecture looking back on his work on how damage to our DNA gets detected and repaired - a vital part of our cancer defences. We also heard talks from experts from around the globe, discussing the very latest progress in genetics research.  To get the low-down and find out a bit more about the meeting, I spoke to Professor Dirk-Jan de Koning from the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, who's a member of the Genetics Society committee.

 Dirk-Jan -  So, the Genetic Society organises two meetings - a spring meeting and an autumn meeting and they are organised or planned by our members and they come with proposals.  This one is a specific one because the journal Genes and Development was established 25 years ago with the Society as a co-founder and so this meeting was really about the science that is presented in that journal.  So we have now seen two days of very detailed, cutting edge of the DNA and the RNA regulation and the consequences.  If you look forward to the spring meeting, we have much more vertical meeting there where we look at how genomics has delivered for healthcare, and then we look much more from the science to the implementation in personalised medicine.  So, the meetings vary in content and in topic, as well as in scientific depth.

Kat -  And what are some of the themes that have been covered in the meeting over the past two days?

Dirk-Jan -  So, if I take my personal highlights, it started yesterday very much with the DNA regulation, the DNA repair, how the whole cell machinery works to make sure all these processes that make us what we are, function correctly. And it moved on later in the day with the thing that brought it all together for me, was the medal lecture by Steve West where he really illustrated how some of the genes that we know as cancer genes like BRCA2 really, in their normal day job act as a chaperone protein that makes sure that DNA repair functions well.  That for me was fascinating - to find out what all these suspect genes do in their normal day job.

Kat -  I thought it was really interesting because he's a biochemist, but you've given him a Genetics Society award, and I thought his talk was excellent, really engaging.

Dirk-Jan -  I fully agree, but again, Genetics Society medals are nominated by our members and then voted for, so it is clear that within the Genetics Society, someone like Steve West is very much appreciated for his contributions.  So, we don't check someone's CV before we make sure whether they're eligible for an award.  It is really...

Kat -  Are you really a geneticist?

Dirk-Jan -  Exactly.  If you make a useful contribution, your colleagues or your peers will nominate you at some stage.

Kat -  And finally, we've got the last afternoon of the meeting.  What are you looking forward to this afternoon?

Dirk-Jan -  I'm very much looking forward to Nick Hastie from Edinburgh who's a former medal winner of the Society, how he puts it all in the context of human diseases that we have sort of already given a glimpse from some of the earlier talks, so I'm really looking forward to that in particular.

Kat -  And as well as listening to all the fantastic talks we've heard, it's obvious here that lots and lots of scientists, you're bringing them together from all over the world to talk and collaborate.  Do you know that fruitful collaborations come from meetings like this?

Dirk-Jan -  I don't have any examples at hand, but I do know there are a lot of interactions over dinner and discussions. You've also seen that we have very lively discussions on the basis of the talks, and I can assure you, those have continued over the dinners that we've had over the last 2 days.  So, that's been fruitful from that perspective.

Kat - The next Genetics Society meeting will be in April 2013, and is on the topic of Genomics of Health and Society. If you're interested in coming along, there's more information on the Genetics Society website at  

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