The bi-annual Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Meeting on Eukaryotic mRNA Processing is one that I try to attend on a regular basis. The last two meetings (2009 and this year) posed special problems for me, since I am also the driver and mule for Amy’s moving trip to Juniata College. The two institutions – CSHL and JC – don’t seem to “talk” to each other, and move-in has been coincident with the meeting (basically, 1 day apart, not enough time to drive to PA, return, and fly to NY). This means that I have ended up driving from Lexington to Cold Spring Harbor for the past two meetings. Load the car up with a dorm room, drive to Huntingdon PA, unload, and just continue to Long Island.
Well, it turns out that this was a pretty fortuitous choice of travel this year. The 2011 Eukaryotic mRNA Processing Meeting was, as usual, an exciting and productive one. But it may well be remembered as much for the bookends of the meeting – the eastern seaboard earthquake that ushered the meeting in on the 23rd, and Hurricane Irene, that necessitated some creative re-scheduling of the last day and a half of the meeting. Many participants were busier Friday re-scheduling shuttles and flights than listening to presentations. I was able to leave at the crack of dawn Saturday and beat the storm by about half a day.
The bookends aside, the meeting was excellent (as usual). I won’t post specifics here (CSHL has rules about commentary and disclosure that I will give a wide berth to). A few themes do merit mention. One is that polyadenylation and mRNA 3′ end formation was topical this year. This is due largely to studies such as I have discussed here and here. More and more labs have begun to look at alternative polyadenylation in the context of gene regulation and clinical outcomes, and the number of talks and posters that touched on polyadenylation was gratifyingly large.
A second theme was one that has been developing for the better part of a decade. It has become apparent that the various chapters in the life of an mRNA are not separated, either in time or space. The connections between the many steps – transcription initiation, elongation, termination, capping, splicing, polyadenylation, transport, translation, etc. – are being revealed in ever more fascinating detail. This was evident throughout the meeting.
A third theme was technical. In a nutshell, high-throughput DNA sequencing as applied to RNA has become all the rage. Lots of people are using variations on the themes I describe here and here to study alternative polyadenylation. (I hope to be able to discuss additional plant studies in the near future – stay tuned.) This in addition to other RNA-Seq applications, ChIP-Seq, CLIP-Seq, CRAC (see the brief mention near the bottom of this site), and other acronym-encoded approaches. (I’m kicking myself for missing an opportunity to come up with my own clever term. Oh well.) As sequencing becomes more affordable, I think that this trend will continue.