2001 Stetten Lecture -- Translating the Histone Code: A Tale of Tails

Masur Auditorium
Clinical Center (Building 10)
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

Start Date: 10/17/2001 3:00 PM

End Date: 10/17/2001 4:00 PM

Videocast - C. David AllisStetten Lecture videocast

Speaker: C. David Allis, Ph.D.
Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
University of Virginia Health Sciences Center

Biographical Sketch

Every minute of every day, our cells translate our genetic code into a meaningful message, producing millions of proteins that allow us to eat, breathe, walk, and think. Despite the fact that this appears to "just happen," scientists spend a great deal of time and energy figuring out how. Understanding how a DNA message is converted into a working protein is knowledge integral to determining ways to develop treatment and prevention strategies to fight disease.

This year's Stetten lecturer, Dr. C. David Allis, is a pioneer in research that aims to clarify how cells contain and protect their most precious cargo, DNA, in protein-rich assemblies that are collectively called chromatin. In a sense, chromatin acts as a gatekeeper for our genes, regulating access to DNA by cellular equipment that decodes genes.

His groundbreaking studies have begun to reveal that a key step in how cells interpret their genetic code involves actually finding certain genes inside chromatin. A cell's gene-decoding machinery is drawn to proteins in chromatin that have been "marked" with a variety of natural chemical tags. Putting on these tags and taking them off, Allis has found, is a critical aspect of targeting the translation of genetic messages. Recent studies by Allis have uncovered that several of these marking enzymes are revved up in cancer cells, making them an important target for developing future cancer drugs.

Allis earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Cincinnati in 1973 and a doctorate in biology from Indiana University in 1978. He was on the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine from 1981 to 1990, at Syracuse University from 1990 to 1995, and at the University of Rochester from 1995 to 1998. Since 1998, Allis has been the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Professor of Microbiology, and Member of the Center for Cell Signaling at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. He has won several awards for both teaching and research, and he is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Allis first got interested in chromatin more than 20 years ago, while working as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Martin Gorovsky at the University of Rochester. Then and now, Allis has remained committed to studying chromatin via model systems such as the protozoan Tetrahymena, a single-celled ciliate organism that he refers to as an "offbeat pond-water beast." Such systems are simple, but they retain important similarities to the workings of animal and human cells.

NIGMS has supported Allis' research since 1984.