Of all the Nobel Laureates and Basically-Nobel-Laureates that came to talk to us this summer, none stood out to me as much as Dr. Anne West. The main reasons that I found Dr. West’s talk so valuable was because it provided me with clarity on where to go in the study of epigenetics. She outline how it was one thing to show that there is a correlation between environmental stimuli and epigenetic changes, but it is an entirely different thing to show a causative relationship between epigenetic changes and phenotypic changes. Her talk also helped me to think about the practicality of the way that we approach an ever changing field with technologies that are over 20 years old. When Dr. West started talking about how d-cas9 could be used to provide specific modulations to various epigenetic changes, I was particularly interested because it provided isnight for me into how current technological advancements can provide new insights into what is actually happening epigenetically. For instance, if I noticed signifigant methylation changes at a CpG site in a gene, I could use d-cas9 DNA Methyl Transferase to replicate that change(and ONLY that change) in a controlled cohort of mice to see what the true effects of that change are on an organism. It could also be used to rescue epigenetic damage that could be caused by environmental stimuli, without causing the errant mutations that regular cas9 causes. In short, Dr. West showed me a practical next step that could be taken in order to expand on my lab’s epigenetic research while also pointing out the inherent flaws in our approach.
An honorable mention for favorite talk would of course be Dr. Noor’s, as she showed me how awesome biological research could be even if a lot of people do not feel that way because it does not have any “practical applications” (see: Nobel Prize).