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Several Ludwig Institute researchers spoke at the Oxford transcription and chromatin meeting on 7-8th December 2017 at the Oxford Martin School. Xin Lu, Sarah De Val, Colin Goding, David Mole, Chunxiao Song and Skirmantas Kriaucionis all presented research stories from their labs that are related to transcription, the process by which an RNA molecule is produced using DNA as a template.

The branding for the Oxford Transcription and Chromatin meeting, 7-8th December 2017, Oxford Martin School
A headshot profile photo of Xin Lu
Xin Lu’s lab studies the transcriptional regulator p53, a protein that can respond to DNA damage and protect the body from cancer by promoting cell death. p53 is the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer. Xin discussed the advances her lab has made in understanding how other proteins control p53 function by solving the crystal structures of these regulatory co-factors bound to p53.

A headshot profile photo of Sarah De ValSarah De Val described the method that her lab has used to study the development of veins. Transcriptional enhancers are DNA regions that can control whether a gene is turned on (transcribed) or off (not transcribed). By tracking the activity of enhancers that are known to be specific to veins, Sarah’s group has been able to discover much more about the transcriptional switches that determine what type of blood vessel (artery or vein) a new vessel becomes. 

A headshot profile photo of Colin Goding

The central question in Colin Goding’s talk was what determines the switch between tumour growth and metastasis, the spreading of the original tumour into other parts of the body. To get tumour growth, a cancerous cell stays in its original location but divides uncontrollably whereas metastasis is caused by cancer cells becoming invasive and stopping proliferation. Colin’s lab’s research indicates that nutrient availability is a key regulator of this switch by influencing the level of the transcriptional regulator MITF.  

A headshot profile photo of Chunxiao SongChunxiao Song described the sensitive technique that he has developed to aid in the early detection of cancer. This technique is non-invasive because it relies on testing circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) that is shed into the blood by tissues from all over the body. The cfDNA is chemically modified on cytosine bases by methylation and hydroxymethylation, and the levels of these modifications can be used as a signature for where in the body the cfDNA originated. Because cancer results in increased cfDNA, by measuring both cfDNA levels and the signature of chemical modifications on the cfDNA, Chunxiao’s technique can be used as a diagnostic assay for many different types of cancer.  

A headshot profile photo of Skirmantas KriaucionisSkirmantas Kriaucionis’ group also studies the chemical modification of cytosine in DNA, in particular the relationship of DNA methylation and DNA hydroxymethylation with transcription. Whereas DNA methylation is mainly found at regulatory regions next to inactive genes, DNA hydroxymethylation is found on genes with high transcription. By artificially changing the level of DNA hydroxymethylation, Skirmantas’ research aims to understand how this modification functions to influence transcription.

The Oxford Transcription Meeting is co-organised by Colin Goding and Jane Mellor (Oxford Biochemistry) to showcase the wealth of research in this area and to promote collaborations between the labs in Oxford. It is hoped that the next meeting will take place in 2020.