26. 09. 2018

Having determined the sequence of nucleotide base pairs that make up both human DNA and that of many other organisms, scientists have turned their attention to the functioning of genes and chromosomes and to how the genome works as a whole. Researchers studying genetics, cytogenetics, genomics, and genome organisation, as well as those engaged in applied sciences including biomedicine, shared new knowledge and findings in their fields at the 22nd International Chromosome Conference held in the Czech capital of Prague on September 25, 2018.

The programme covered such topics as chromosome structure and nuclear architecture, specialised chromosomes, population and evolutionary chromosome biology, mitosis and meiosis, chromatin and chromosome dynamics, genomics and genome organisation, genome engineering in biomedicine, applied chromosome biology in agriculture, new technologies in genome and cytogenetics research, and others.

Professor Pavel Hozák from the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee appreciates especially the fact that the conference brought together two different groups of scientists. One concentrates on the molecular side of the genome and its functioning, the other deals primarily with ways in which genetic information is maintained in human, animal and plant populations, as well as how it has changed during evolution under the influence of various factors in the environment.

Pavel Hozák from the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS

Addressing the conference, its President, Professor Darren K. Griffin from the University of Kent, UK, paid special attention to animal chromosome evolution: “The first point I make is how similar some of the changes are to the changes that we see in diseases. Chromosomes can re-arrange between chromosomes, that is a translocation, or within chromosomes, like in a chromosomal inversion, there can be extra chromosomes or missing ones, they can be fusing together or spreading apart, whatever. I am talking about how that changes during evolution. Mammals have been studied more than any other group in general. They are quite unusual because they have a whole range of different chromosome sizes. We have, however, studied mainly birds and we have traced the changes of chromosomes between birds in a range of different species. Looking at birds and also comparing them to some turtles we have been able to get some idea what the chromosomes of dinosaurs might have looked like.”

Among other things, Professor Darren K. Griffin also explained what makes birds’ genomes so different in comparison with those of mammals.

Darren K. Griffin from the University of Kent

Thomas Cremer, Professor emeritus of Human Genetics and Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, entitled his Keynote Lecture at the22nd International Chromosome Conference”Chromosomes in space and time – from past to future challenges.” His brother, physicist Christoph Cremer, Professor at the Heidelberg University in Germany, then spoke about nuclear genome nanostructure imaging at single-molecule resolution. He has substantially contributed to the development of different revolutionary microscopy methods allowing the study of the cell nucleus, its architecture and functional layout. The ultramodern techniques can be used to identify individual extremely small regions in the nucleus, to investigate processes linked to epigenetics, controlled on-and-off switching of genes and so on.

Professor Christoph Cremer describes gene resolution as the utmost aim of his efforts. He does not mean only morphological description of genes, but he also wishes to cast light on the secrets of gene regulation. Eventually – using the language understood by the general public – he explains his supreme aim: “Let us assume you do not feel well for several weeks. Finally, you go to see the doctor and he says: ‘Oh, your body is already full of metastases, but you do not have to write your testament, we will do a little genome sequence analysis. Then you’ll go to a pharmacy where a specific drug will be designed for you. Then you just take a pill every morning after coffee. The proliferation of these cancerous cells will stop and they will be gradually eliminated from your body.’ It appears to be completely crazy, but it need not be so, because nature can do it. So why should not we be able to do it as well in the course of time,” concluded Christoph Cremer with a smile.

Thomas Cremer, Professor emeritus of Human Genetics and Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich

His words may sound like science fiction or an unattainable dream, but – as Christoph Cremer points out – if you dream, dream high!

Prepared by: Jana Olivová, Division of External Relations of the CAO of the CAS
Photo: Foto: Karel Janoušek, Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS, University of Kent, Pixabay
Licence Creative Commons