So just about to get on a plane to go to Boston/Cambridge for a meeting on transcription–I think it's going to be a lot of fun! Bunch of folks with a quantitative bent getting together, including the organizers Al Sanchez, Hernan Garcia, Jané Kondev, Angela DePace and Rob Phillips (big thanks for all their hard work!). The big reason I'm excited is that this is not going to be a typical meeting: the goal is to discard with the usual formalities of a meeting (like a bunch of boring talks that nobody pays attention to) and instead actually talk with each other about where we want the field to head and how we might get there. We even all made short videos beforehand as a sort of pre-conference introduction!
This is going to require changing our usual scientific behavior, which is to stamp out wild ideas as soon as we hear them. You know that crazy person who asks you some weird question at the end of your seminar about bees and the number 12? Well, that's going to be me, and I won't be satisfied with "talking about it later off-line". :)
Nor is it going to be completely off-line. I'm going to blog about the goings-on in the hope that others can participate as well in what is sadly (but perhaps necessarily) a rather small event. So drop me a line if you have any burning questions about transcription.
What are the sorts of questions we'll be discussing? Here's a few I’ve been thinking about after watching everyone’s videos:
- How close are we to a predictive understanding of the regulatory code? I.e., if I give you a cell type and a piece of DNA, can I predict how much transcription there will be?
- (Related bonus question) How do we deal with the complexity of metazoan transcriptional regulation? What new conceptual frameworks will we need to make further progress?
- What are some new methods that we could develop that would help us understand transcription? What are the quantities that we would like to measure?
- Development appears to be incredibly precise–how do developing organisms achieve this despite the sloppiness of chemical reactions? To what extent is this precision an intrinsic property of the cell and to what extent is it an emergent property of the interaction of different cells?
- What are the functional consequences of transcription? Which aspects of transcription “matter” and which ones are irrelevant? In chemistry, we talk about rate-limiting reactions. What are the biology-limiting reactions in transcription? What should we be measuring?