University of Otago

Centre for Gene Research

Centre for Gene Research
 
University of Otago


About CGR

Links

Search


Centre for Gene Research Emerging Technology Workshop
June 1998

 

The recent CGR workshop on emerging technologies was a great success, bringing together over one hundred researchers from around the University to discuss the latest developments in gene research technologies. The original mandate from James Kalmakoff was to host a meeting that would bring us up to date on quantitative PCR, microarray technologies, proteomics and bioinformatics. In addition to hearing about our own members' experiences and aspirations of these new developments currently taking the world of molecular biology by storm, we were also able to invite several leading scientists from Australia to give insights into their own particular fields of expertise.

The meeting kicked off on the Friday evening with a social gathering at the Staff Club where Professor George Petersen, in an after dinner speech, modestly re-lived some of his early years as a molecular biologist. His anecdotes of driving north from Oxford to attend the Edinburgh Festival only to be thwarted by a dodgy car engine and of his culinary skills when left alone for only a few days by his wife were delivered with alacrity. George's enthusiasm in visiting virtually every molecular biologist during a brief visit through the States in the 60s, combined with his unstinting commitment in setting up and leading a world-class biochemistry department back in Dunedin, are lessons for us all to take inspiration from.

Saturday dawned calm and sunny, but with the threat of an approaching southerly front to remind us that winter hadn't completely forsaken us this year. Our first speaker was Professor Tony Reeve who, with only three days' notice, had kindly agreed to step in following the unavoidable withdrawal of Professor John Mattick from Brisbane. Tony's remit was to enthuse everyone about new genomic technologies. His introductory talk on the power of advanced molecular methods, particularly gene microarrays, to push back the frontiers of medical research ably demonstrated just what we wanted to achieve in hosting the workshop.

The next two speakers, separated by commercial rivalry as well as by morning tea, were both representatives from companies heavily involved in the development of PCR. Brant Bassam, from PE Applied Biosystems, gave an incisive talk on real-time PCR and its applications based on the TaqMan and SYBR Green chemistries, including quantitative PCR and allelic discrimination. This was particularly relevant and welcome in light of the CGR's recent acquisition of a GeneAmp 5700 system - the platform for these applications. Not to be outdone, John Mackay of Roche Diagnostics (formerly Boehringer Mannheim), followed up with a full and technical presentation of an alternative PCR platform on which to perform similar and additional applications - the Light Cycler.

Our first overseas invited speaker was Dr Marc Wilkins, from the Australian Proteome Analysis Facility at Macquarie University. Coining the term 'Proteome' in 1994, as a response and complement to the burgeoning interest in genomics and DNA, Dr Wilkins has been instrumental in setting up an original and highly resourced centre for comprehensive protein expression analysis. His talk, entitled "Proteomes and Proteomics: tools and techniques for the high-throughput analysis of proteins", was entertaining and not a little enlightening for the 'gene jockeys' amongst us, giving a timely reminder that genetic studies alone cannot be used to predict phenotypic outcomes - the subtleties of proteomics are another layer of molecular control altogether. Rest assured there'll still be lots to do once Venter has finished sequencing DNA...

Breaking for lunch back at the Staff Club those of us not way-laid by the media for comments on genetically modified food were given the opportunity to eat, drink and watch microarraying robots strutting their stuff. As well as trade displays from Roche and ABI, Stuart Elmes from the Cambridge-based company BioRobotics was also attending the workshop, showing a video of their MicroGrid instrument in action.

Suitably refreshed, it was time for the second of our overseas speakers - Dr Tim Littlejohn, the head of the Australian National Genomic Information Service. Speaking about "Integration, delivery and access to bioinformatics resources", Dr Littlejohn gave an excellent presentation on the downstream implications of all this genomic and proteomic data, namely how the hell do we set about analyzing it. Well, it seems the Australians have stolen the march and have developed a whole host of integrated tools for "database inter-operation, high performance methods for phylogenetic analysis and efficient methodologies for the delivery of biocomputing services". We must ensure that funding will be forthcoming to enable us to subscribe to these essential bioinformatics tools.

Afternoon tea was accompanied by the predicted southerly, heralding the final part of the workshop programme - microarray technology. This session was planned as an informal discussion, to briefly cover just what microarrays are being used for, dispel some of the hype and myths associated with the much vaunted "DNA chips" and to talk a little about what kinds of array experiments researchers at Otago might like to carry out. Introducing the session, I explained the highs and lows of expectation I'd experienced in talking to scientists in America and Europe who are developing microarray technology, more specifically for mutation detection. Dr Mike Sullivan, senior lecturer in paediatrics and a principal investigator in the Cancer Genetics Laboratory at the University of Otago, then eloquently described several experiments he could undertake immediately in order to answer questions about the coordinate expression of genes involved in childhood tumours, if only he could have access to microarray technology. Bren Collinson (from the company Molecular Dynamics, which manufactures some of the microarray-analysis equipment) gave us some insights into the pitfalls of this technology, though some of us thought he was being overly pessimistic (or perhaps just politic?). Watch this space.....

In summary, I think the workshop was both informative and very timely. It is clear that the University of Otago needs to embrace many of these new technologies if it is to compete successfully in the rapidly changing world of molecular biology. To take a leaf out of Professor Petersen's book, it wouldn't do us any harm if we were to actually take a lead in some of them too.

No workshop is successful without the input of many people. In addition to all the speakers, I would especially like to thank the rest of the organising committee: Chris Brown, Glen Buchan, Bronwyn Carlisle, Mark Dalphin, James Kalmakoff, Mike Hubbard and Craig Marshall. Thanks too to the graduate students who worked the projectors and to the University who subsidised the meeting through the CGRs 'Gene Structure and Function' theme.

Scott J. Tebbutt
Biochemistry Department

Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research

 

A Grassroots Organisation of Active Research Scientists


Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research