Keystone Genome Engineering final thoughts

I’ve been meaning to make a wrapup post about the Keystone Genome Engineering meeting for a while and have had bits of this post in my Drafts folder for too long, but things kept getting in the way. Speaking of which, be on the look out for upcoming announcements surrounding our grand opening celebration on February 4th.

This was the first meeting in which I live-tweeted (@igisci, #kssynbio), and overall I think the experience was positive (for me, at least). 140 characters really makes one think carefully about the critical take-home of each talk. There’s no danger of tweets replacing meeting attendance, but think of them as little advertisements for interesting research. My only complaint is that short talks chosen from the abstracts are exhausting to cover!

As usual, I was blown away by the speed at which the genome editing field has been moving. I maintain a list of organisms in which Cas9 has been used successfully and this single meeting added many items to that list. The ability to make targeted changes in a dizzying array of living cells and organisms makes this a very exciting time to be doing science! No doubt we’ll take this all for granted in 5-10 years (however long it takes for new students to view the ability as business-as-usual), and frankly that will probably be for the better. I’m interested in getting Cas9 to do all sorts of new and interesting things because of the biology it enables, not because I like bells and whistles for their own sake. But are we moving so fast that we’re neglecting to think about where it’s all heading? Another teaser: check the IGI website for more on a recent, wide-ranging discussion about that very topic.

A focus on technology was apparent at the meeting, where people presented new methods but were almost shaking with anticipation at the thought of all the interesting science their tools made possible. Perhaps that was the take-home of the conference, which was joint between genome engineering and synthetic biology. Genome engineers are driven to develop new technology by the promise of uncovering biological insights and creating impactful therapies. Synthetic biologists have a similar technology drive to engineer exciting new biologies, with huge implications for our world. But while both groups are in a phase of intense technology development, we’re all doing this to derive fundamental insights and better the human condition in some way.

The mountains around Big Sky, Montana (where the conference was held) certainly did their own part to better my own human condition.

Jacob Corn

Jacob Corn is the Scientific Director of the IGI and faculty at UC Berkeley. Follow him on twitter @jcornlab.

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