Replication and repair

14 September, 2017

Replication and repair

Replication and repair

As part of their knowledge exchange activities, Babraham Institute Group Leaders travel far and wide to discuss their research findings. Institute science is presented both at major international conferences on health, ageing and disease and at the  conferences with distinct and dedicated areas of focus, drawing together the experts in that field and providing the opportunity for everyone to benefit from that collected critical mass of expertise. In this blog, Dr Jon Houseley explains why a specialised conference in Rome was exactly the right platform to promote published work and build scientific support for a potentially controversial discovery.

The information stored in our genes can become damaged over time. Environmental factors such as radiation and certain chemicals can randomly interfere with DNA causing lasting changes to our genes. In addition, mistakes when cells divide can also permanently alter our genetic code. These changes to our genes are called mutations, many have little or no effect on health or success, whilst others can be helpful or harmful. Evolution by natural selection states that some mutations have beneficial effects which help some living things to adapt and survive better than others.

My group is very interested in the mechanisms by which genomes change and how these are regulated. In particular, we want to understand whether cells have ways to manage genome changes to help them adapt to changing environments. Genome changes triggered by random events like radiation are dangerous and unpredictable, so they’re difficult for cells to control. Yet, cells have much more control over the copying of DNA when they divide. We suspect that cells may be able to harness the process of cell division as a way to allow targeted genetic change.

In a recently published paper, we showed how cells can manipulate DNA replication to generate genetic changes specifically around genes that could help them to adapt to challenging environments. This idea is controversial, as discussed in this recent article in Quanta Magazine, because such a mechanism would allow cells to adapt faster than is possible by random mutation. To make our study more reputable, we ensured that it was well grounded in the current understanding of replication-linked DNA repair.

This conference was focused on the reasons why problems occur during DNA replication and what mistakes are introduced into genes as a result of errors in the replication process. I was keen to present our research to such a specialist audience to help verify our work and raise awareness of the key aspects of our findings.

This meeting hosted world experts in the field of DNA replication and repair. This is an unusually tight focus for a conference and provided an excellent forum to gain critical insights into new research that will help us in planning our future studies. I gave a talk about our work on the first evening, which allowed plenty of time for discussions during breaks and networking events throughout the rest of the conference. The work was well-received and many delegates offered further insights into how the process I described may function in different situations. All of which have helped to shape my ideas about how to move our work forward.

There were excellent knowledge exchange opportunities at this meeting. As well as presenting our work to the wider community, I re-affirmed existing contacts with relevant group leaders and spoke to many useful new connections that I had not previously encountered. I am very optimistic that the contacts I made at this meeting will lead to future collaborations and further opportunities for interaction.

Presenting at this sort of international meeting is a vital part of raising the profile of my research group and the Babraham Institute in general. It serves to foster collaboration with the wider academic community and ensures that our work is current and relevant within the context of global process and international research efforts. 

Please speak to the member of the KEC team if you would like to apply for a KEC grant (open to Institute members only).

2nd DNA Replication as a Source of DNA Damage Conference, 03 Jul 2017 - 06 Jul 2017, Rome, Italy