The first day of the Advances in Genome Biology & Technology (AGBT) meeting kicked off with an introduction by Eric Green, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. He announced that this 15th annual meeting was the largest ever with 850 expected to attend. The opening plenary session certainly did not look like 850 people in attendance. Winter Storm Pax wreaked havoc on flights coming in from Atlanta and other cities, resulting in several speaker and general attendee cancellations.
The plenary session began with scheduled talks by Aviv Regev, Jeanne Lawrence, Wendy Winckler and Valerie Schneider. Jeanne Lawrence couldn’t make it, which was a shame particularly since she gave a brilliant talk at ASHG on using a single gene XIST to shut down the extra copy of chromosome 21 in Down syndrome. This work was nicely summarized in a publication that came out this summer titled: Translating dosage compensation to trisomy 21.
Aviv Regev and Wendy Winckler’s talks were subject to a blog/tweet embargo (unclear whether Regev’s talk was completely under embargo or only the last half, we’re playing it safe and not discussing it here), leaving Valerie Schneider’s presentation the only one that was tweeted or written about. This instantly created great angst among those attending the lectures, those stuck in airports enroute to AGBT and those at home waiting for in depth coverage.
Single-cell sequencing, considered the “method of the year” by Nature Methods was the basis of the opening lecture. Aviv Regev offered an excellent view of the dendritic cell network based on cyclical perturbations and variations between single cells. Regev’s first half of her presentation titled, “Harnessing Variation Between Single Cells to Decipher Intra and Intercellular Circuits in Immune Cells” was largely covered by her publication in April, “Single-cell transcriptomics reveals bimodality in expression and splicing in immune cells”.
The second talk, by Wendy Winckler was not allowed to be discussed or tweeted according to Winckler, courtesy of Novartis’s communications department. The title of her presentation “Next Generation Diagnostics for Precision Cancer Medicine” wasn’t revealing either. To get an idea of what she’s up to and the direction of her lecture, you can read these recent publications.
The final talk by Valerie Schneider, titled “Taking advantage of GRCh38” began with an analogy to an unwanted pair of socks one receives for Christmas that ends up being used and finally really liked. “It was time for an update….whether or not it was on your wish list”. We were reminded that centromeres are important specialized chromatin structures important for cell division, but because of repetitive regions, they are not represented in reference assemblies. Previous versions of the human reference assembly had centromeres represented by a 3M gap. The latest assembly, GRCh38 incorporates centromere models generated using whole genome shotgun reads as part of the Venter sequencing project. Since there are two copies of each centromere for each autosome, these centromere models represent an average of two copies. She concluded her presentation urging users to switch now: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genome/tools/remap.
After a short break from the talks, the closing reception sponsored by Roche began outside. Halfway through, there was a brief yet sudden Florida thundershower that sent the entire AGBT community scurrying indoors for shelter. That was okay though because the conversations just continued indoors. Looking forward to tomorrow morning’s lectures. Several of the ones we’ve highlighted will be up.