ACS: So long, and thanks for all the fish


Continuing my proud tradition of not blogging in real time at ACS meetings, here are my memories of a lovely Sunday:

I went to my first ever session in the chemical toxicology division, which was a session on zebrafish organized by Peter Dedon. Knowing a bit about his background (in DNA structure/damage/etc), it was quite a surprise to find Dr. Dedon bringing this group of people together; it turns out that the simple explanation is: scientific curiousity. How delightful.

Leonard Zon gave the first talk about using zebrafish as a model system for stem cells, some of which (that prostaglandins increase the number of stem cells in bone marrow) was recently published. In some of his new work, he’s discovered a pre-cancer phenotype (a cell cluster) as well as a molecule that can reverse the clustering. As comes as no surprise, we didn’t get to see the structure of the molecule.

Patricia McGrath* gave a very informative talk about zebrafish in general, and outlined some of the ways that her company can monitor what these fish are up to for screening applications. She also gave out plastic fish, to the delight of everyone except the people who arrived too late to get them. There was also randomly a plastic fish sitting next to me – hard to know whether it was there just to get information, or perhaps to protest animal testing? In any case, it made for a good neighbor.

John Stegeman gave a great talk which highlighted the importance of carefully thinking through your biological model system: he’s found that there are significant differences in the cytochrome P450’s in zebrafish vs. humans; this is important because these Cyp450’s are the enzymes that process drugs and other foreign molecules, meaning that bioavailability and identity of any metabolites could be quite variable.

The final speaker, Jackie Lees, closed out the session by discussing cancer in fish.( Who knew??) She’s discovered an interesting correlation between cancerous cells, the presence or absence of p53, and ribosomal proteins. While their initial theory was that the ribosome was just not producing p53, it seems there may be more complicated mechanisms at work.

Overall, it was a really good session. And fish (plastic or otherwise, except for the ones with electrodes in their heads) are cute.

In other chemical toxicology news, Joanne Kotz (the senior editor at Nature Chemical Biology) has organized a session in the same division on Thursday morning, focused on understanding the full scope of what drugs do, including intended and unintended interactions. If any of you are still around that day, check it out!

Finally, I need your help: I was walking out of the convention center, and passed a room labeled ‘CHEDDUCK’. I glanced in and all I could see was people eating ice cream. Can anyone explain?

Catherine Goodman (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)

  • I can’t seem to find a website for either Dr. McGrath or Phylonics, the company. However, I was amused to discover that if I just searched for ‘McGrath’, this website was the first result. Coincidence? Or a convenient way to get rid of the test subjects?…

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