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Chromatin goes green in Wien: Highlights from the 5th European Workshop on Plant Chromatin (Vienna, Austria, June 1-2, 2017)

Authors: Sean A. Montgomery, Jasmin Bassler, Mattia Doná, Ruben Gutzat (all at Gregor Mendel Institute), Iva Mozgova (Centre Algatech)

As part of its mission to encourage engagement within the genetics community, PLOS Genetics sponsors a number of conferences and meetings every year. We are featuring some of these conferences on Biologue, with posts written by the attendees, organizers, or PLOS Genetics editors who were involved.

Workshop dinner at the “Wiener Heurigen”. Image Credit: Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid, Gregor Mendel Institute & PLOS Genetics Associate Editor

The 5th European Workshop on Plant Chromatin (EWPC 2017) [1, 2, 3, 4] took place on the 1st and 2nd of June at the Vienna Biocenter in the Gregor Mendel Institute (GMI) in Austria, and it served as an excellent platform for early-career researchers, postdocs and advanced PhD students. Instead of poster presentations, two sessions with 5-minute “lightning talks” gave many young researchers the chance to present and discuss their recent findings and techniques. This allowed for a refreshing amount of interactions and discussions, which was reflected in Viennese-style with generously prolonged and supplemented coffee-breaks and followed by a traditional Austrian dinner at a “Heuriger” — a local wine garden.

All the usual suspects of chromatin-related topics, such as DNA cytosine methylation, PRC-mediated repression and stress-related epigenetic memory were present. However, it was also satisfying to see that not only was chromatin a dynamic subject, but that the whole chromatin field has moved progressively in broadness as well as in depth. Although single-cell chromatin analyses are still only emerging, many researchers reported attempts to acquire cell type-specific information on chromatin states. Upcoming topics include comparative epigenomics, epimutagenesis, and epigenetics of allelopathic interactions between different plant species.

The program was kicked off by one of Cell Press’ top “40 under 40”, Dr Bob Schmitz from the University of Georgia, USA. Dr Schmitz’s talk focused on the conundrum of gene body methylation; despite its surprisingly strong conservation across species, it is still unknown whether it has any function, and if so, what that could be. His team found that the halophilic cousin of Arabidopsis, Eutrema salsugineum, lacks gene body methylation entirely and could be a very interesting new model to help answer questions about the function of gene body methylation. Dr Schmitz furthermore suggested an original strategy of epimutagenesis of plant methylomes to generate heritable phenotypic variation with potential agronomical implications.

Where do we see plant chromatin research heading? First, we saw chromatin go live and cell type-specific. Applications of tools such as CRISPR/Cas9, TALENs or protein domains recognizing chromatin modifications are opening doors for live-cell imaging of DNA loci and epigenetic modifications on single cells. The efforts invested in employing approaches such as INTACT, FACS, or laser capture to gain insights into the cell type-specific chromatin organisation are paying off. The presented results highlighted the differences in epigenomic profiles between cell types with different physiological and developmental functions, but importantly also between comparable cell types at different plant developmental stages.

EWPC 2017 Poster. Image Credit: Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid, Valérie Gaudin, Lars Hennig, Claudia Köhler, and J. Matthew Watson, EWPC 2017 Organizers

Second, our understanding of chromatin structure establishment, its modification, arrangement in the nuclear space, and its remodelling is advancing fast. The recently resolved genome-wide distribution of the Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 (PRC1)-catalysed histone H2A ubiquitination (H2Aub) was presented, and the functional connection between PRC1 and PRC2 complexes was discussed. Novel molecular mechanisms of recruiting activating and repressive chromatin modifiers were also discussed, as well as novel physiological and developmental roles of the plant histone variants H1.1, H1.3 and H3.3.

Third, we saw chromatin research branching out extensively into other fields of plant research, such as plant physiology, ecology, and immune and stress responses, highlighting the increasing impact of chromatin dynamics on plants´ responses to environmental as well as developmental cues. This exciting widening of the plant chromatin research field offers ample space for multidisciplinary approaches, ranging from genetics, and molecular or structural biology to ecophysiology and population biology.

We would like to thank all participants, organizers and sponsors (French National Institute for Agricultural Research, PLOS Genetics, Syngenta) for this inspiring and exciting meeting. We are now already looking forward to catching up on the latest from plant chromatin research at the 6th EWPC in 2019 at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany!

The 2017 workshop was jointly organized by members of the Gregor Mendel Institute, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and the Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin. With 110 attendees, the workshop attracted a large representation of international researchers from twelve European countries, but also from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Israel and the USA, all studying various aspects of plant chromatin and epigenetics.

For additional information, please feel free to contact corresponding author Sean A. Montgomery at sean.montgomery@gmi.oeaw.ac.at.



  1. Mozgová I, Köhler K, Gaudin V, Hennig L. The many faces of plant chromatin: Meeting summary of the 4th European workshop on plant chromatin. Epigenetics. 2015;10: 1084-1090.
  2. Jarillo JA, Gaudin V, Hennig L, Köhler C, Piñeiro M. Plant chromatin warms up in Madrid. Epigenetics. 2014; 9: 644-652.
  3. Houba-Hérin N, Hennig L, Köhler C, Gaudin V. A fruitful chromatin harvest: Meeting summary of the Second European Workshop on Plant Chromatin. Epigenetics. 2012: 7: 307-311.
  4. Köhler C, Gaudin V, Hennig L. Green chromatin dynamics in Zurich: Meeting summary based on the European Workshop on Plant Chromatin. Epigenetics. 2010; 5: 80-83.

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