London Chromatin Club: ten years of sponsorship

To celebrate the tenth year of Abcam sponsoring the London Chromatin Club, we discussed the history of the club with Andy Bannister, meeting chair.

The London Chromatin Club (LCC) is a regular twice yearly meeting that aims to provide an opportunity for researchers studying chromatin to get together and present their research to colleagues and other scientists, in a relaxed and friendly environment.

At these meetings, young researchers and students in particular are encouraged to present their new findings, although the club can also boast an impressive list of past keynote speakers.

The LCC is now regularly chaired by Andy Bannister from the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge. To mark the tenth anniversary of our sponsorship of the LCC, we sat down with him to ask what he remembers of the early days of the LCC, and how epigenetics has changed and grown over the years.

John Gurdon talks to the audience at the London Chromatin Club,
July 2014.

Q. How did the LCC come into being?

I believe the very first discussion took place between Joan Boyes, Tim Hebbes and Doug Higgs in a pub close to the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London. This meeting was followed up with a discussion at a Gordon conference that involved a number of leading chromatin researchers. The inaugural LCC meeting was held at the ICR in December 1998 and was organized by Joan Boyes and Patrick Varga-Weisz.

Q. What do you think makes the LCC special?

With London being such a hub, we are able to attract attendees from London, Cambridge, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Oxford, as well as from further afield. We have been able to get some very good keynote speakers too; Nobel laureate John Gurdon presented the keynote talk at the last meeting.

And, of course, it is free to attend.

As the LCC is now an established club, we are always looking for fresh impetus from new researchers and work hard to get researchers new to the area to attend and present their work.

Q. Epigenetics has come a long way since the LCC was first established. Do you remember what research was being presented at the LCC at that time? How does that compare with the research presented now?

During the first meetings back in the late 1990s, many researchers were asking relatively straightforward questions such as whether a particular enzyme modifies histones. Also, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) had been established and was becoming more mainstream, but it was largely limited to studying specific histone modifications at single genes. Now, ChIP is often used with massively parallel DNA sequencing, giving us a genome-wide view of chromatin modification.

There was also much more of a focus on biophysical work at the early meetings, for example, using x-ray crystallography and NMR to look at nucleosome structure. Now this biophysical work plays a less prominent role in our meetings as genome-wide approaches and other technologies have become mainstream.

Different questions are being asked now too. There is much more research on epigenetics of reprogramming to pluripotency and on epigenetic inheritance and memory. Our knowledge of non-coding RNA has also grown from very little since the start of the LCC; we now appreciate that a lot of the genome doesn't code for protein and we are questioning how non-coding RNA is regulated and how it feeds back on chromatin.

In the future, research on RNAs is likely to continue as many researchers' focus shifts from histone modifications to modifications on RNAs; we know that these modifications exist, but we really know very little about what they do. Additionally, the overall 3D architecture of the genome, and how DNA templated processes are regulated in space and time, will be a strong focus as we move forward.

Q. What do you remember from the early days of the LCC? How has it changed over time?

Over the years, we have seen a greater range of topics presented at the meetings, which has reflected the expansion in the field of epigenetics. There have been no fundamental changes to the club in terms of what we do though - it still does what it was set up to do.

One improvement we did see was the beginning of Abcam's involvement with the club ten years ago, which allowed us to have better catering and better facilities. When the LCC was first set up 16 years ago, it was organized on a very low budget and refreshments were limited to coffee and biscuits.

Q. What about the future? Do you see the LCC continuing for the next ten years?

I think so, as long as people still want to attend. However, we are a club rather than an institution, and we will evolve over time to suit the wishes of the 'clubbers' in order to make sure that we continue to get a good number of attendees.

Unlike when the club first started, there are many local clubs now that focus on epigenetics, as well as the larger international conferences and to a certain extent we face competition from these. But the informal, relaxed environment of the LCC still has something special to offer - for free!

If you would like to be a part of the future of the LCC, the next meeting—Chromatin Biology: past, present and future—will be on Thursday April 9, 2015, at Kings College London.