In this application, we seek funding for the partial support of the 2011 Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Epigenetics, one of the most exciting and active areas of biological research today. An explosion of epigenetics research in the past decade reflects the fact that knowledge of complete genome sequences is not sufficient to understand how genomic information is decoded or regulated. Chromosomes are not naked DNA molecules, but DNA-protein complexes known as chromatin. Modification of the chromatin by DNA methylation, post- translational modification of the histones that wrap the DNA, use of alternative histone variants and alterations in histone spacing and chromatin compaction are common aspects of epigenetic regulation throughout eukaryotes. As a result, studies of model organisms have direct relevance to humans and human disease states. Meeting every two years since 1995, the Epigenetics GRC has earned a strong international reputation as the premier meeting in its field, typically drawing more applicants than can be accepted. The conference is known for its cutting edge science and breadth of coverage, providing a forum for the exploration of a wide range of epigenetic phenomena and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in numerous model organisms, as well as humans. Basic science studies of such intriguing phenomena as X chromosome inactivation, gametic imprinting, position effect variegation, gene dosage control, paramutation, nucleolar dominance, transposon silencing and RNA-mediated DNA methylation will be balanced with medically-relevant research, including the epigenetics of cancer, imprinting disorders, aging, memory and effects of the environment (including diet). The 2011 conference will be co-chaired by mammalian biologist Marisa Bartolomei (University of Pennsylvania), and plant biologist Craig Pikaard (Indiana University), both leaders in the field of epigenetics and long time Epigenetics GRC participants. The 2011 Epigenetics GRC will include a mix of invited established investigators who are leaders in the field, invited young investigators who are doing exciting work and young scientists whose submitted abstracts indicate new breakthroughs at the cutting edge of the field. In this way, the organizers will strive to promote the careers of students, postdoctoral fellows, and new principal investigators, by involving them in both the oral and poster presentations. Special efforts will also be made to support women scientists and include participants who are members of racial/ethnic groups that are underrepresented in science.
Epigenetic regulation is essential for development, controlling such phenomena as inactivation of one X chromosome in somatic cells of female mammals, dictating the whether only maternally or paternally inherited copies of specific genes are expressed in offspring, maintaining transposable elements in a silenced state, or controlling the dosage of repetitive essential genes. Epigenetic misregulation contributes to cancer through silencing of tumor suppressor genes. Disease states including imprinting disorders and Rett syndrome have an epigenetic basis, as do aspects of aging and effects of diet or environmental toxins on gene expression. By advancing the study of epigenetic mechanisms, the Epigenetics Gordon Research Conference will contribute to the understanding and improvement of human health and well-being.