Spring is in the air

14 April 2017

Interview with

rebecca Oakey, King's College London

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Kat Arney has been off on her travels again, this time to a conference at Warwick University - organised by the Genetics Society, the BSBD and BSCB - taking advantage of the glorious spring sunshine by spending three days in windowless lecture theatres. But it was all worth it to hear about very latest advances from the world of biological research. On the first night Kat headed to the bar to catch up with one of the meeting organisers, Professor Rebecca Oakey from King’s College London, to find out what to expect over the next three days.

Rebecca - Well, the soul of this meeting is a real combination of the British Society for Developmental Biology, the British Society of Cell Biology, and the Genetics Society bringing together themes that overlap and complement each other.

Kat - So this is really covering most of the aspects of life from their genes that are controlling cells, the cells themselves and how they're behaving, and then how that’s kind of working as animals and plants grow.

Rebecca - Absolutely and all of that underpinned obviously by genetic mechanisms and molecular biology. Together, that just brings the picture into sharp focus around everything from nucleic acids to growing organisms.

Kat - What are the particular themes that you're really interested in from the Genetics Society point of view?

Rebecca - This time, we’ve been able to host the Genetics Society lecture for 2017 which was given by Marisa Bartolomei on Genomic Imprinting. That’s been a fantastic overview of her life’s work plus a lot of work of those around her in the field.

Every year, the Genetics Society president is able to nominate a medal. It’s called the Mendel medal and Wendy Bickmore has nominated famous plant geneticist David Baulcombe from Cambridge.

Kat - So that’s two lectures to really look forward to. But there's lots and lots of talks. Are there sort of broad themes that I should be looking out for?

Rebecca - Well, the two themes that appeal to me the most I guess are the epigenetics sessions where we have a really fantastic lineup of people working on epigenetics from metabolism through to regulatory networks and genome architecture and transcription regulation in multiple organisms such as C. elegans.

This time I guess, the other sessions that I'm particular interested in are on unusual model systems or tractable new systems which include things like oak trees and ash trees. We’re also looking at social insects such as bees and ants, bringing together some things which we perhaps wouldn’t normally think about as being tools in genetics or cell biology.

Kat - We’re used to things like C. elegans, the little tiny nematode worm, mice, fruit flies, all these kind of stuff. Can we expect to see some maybe quite wacky stuff? Is that what you're looking forward to in these sessions?

Rebecca - I think so too. I think those trees are going to be looking really, really interesting but they're complex genomes. Some of them are partially sequenced, some of them are not sequenced. There are new ideas around thinking about organisms perhaps we haven't really been able to access before.

Kat - What are you hoping to come away with at the end of these three days?

Rebecca - I'm hoping to come away with a big context. I think context is something that we certainly miss when we go to very specialist meetings. I think broad meetings really challenge us to try and understand things we didn’t really know how they fitted into the normal things we think about. That’s really important for our trainees, for our PhD students post doctor but actually really super important for even more sophisticated researchers too.

Kat - We’re here at the first evening reception. People are chatting away in the bar, lots of conversations starting already. For me, this is always the heart of a conference, the conversations around it, rather than necessarily the talks. Is that what you're hoping for as well?

Rebecca - I think distilling the talks in the bar is really important. It sets off great ideas, potential collaborations, and just again, bringing that context to what we sometimes really narrow down in our own labs and lives.

Kat - Professor Rebecca Oakey from King’s College London, who was part of the meeting’s scientific organising committee on behalf of the Genetics Society.

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