epigenetics@HMGU @1 year: Reflections of the Founding Directors

Source: HMGU

epigenetics @HMGU was founded by Institute directors Maria Elena Torres-Padilla and Robert Schneider in 2016 to bring together researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum München working in the fields of epigenetics and chromatin. By joining forces, the last year has seen the launch of a wealth of activities aimed at benefiting the researchers in the community and bringing international visibility to the teams and the Helmholtz Center.

A year in to the endeavor, the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Office caught up with Maria Elena Torres-Padilla and Robert Schneider to hear their thoughts on the launch of epigenetics @HMGU and their visions for the future.

Perhaps you could start by explaining why you set out to launch the epigenetics @HMGU community.
Robert Schneider: When I joined HMGU in early 2016 there were many groups in different departments already doing epigenetics research. What I saw as our mission was to bring these groups together, to create novel interactions, to strengthen epigenetic research at HMGU and to increase its visibility.

Maria Elena Torres-Padilla: There was already an impressive wealth of expertise at HMGU, and we realized that there were many of us interested in epigenetics, working on epigenetics, and wanting to move the field forward as a community, by for example, promoting more collaborative actions amongst us. We therefore wanted to give this a more structured form, where it is easy for, for example, students and postdocs to feel part of a community where they can benefit from exchanges, and identify with it.

There are now 25 teams in epigenetics @HMGU, what would you say is the main strength of the community?

Torres-Padilla: It’s breadth in terms of research topics: the community covers ‘everything’. We have colleagues around who do extraordinary computational work, passing through the basic mechanistic research, up to stem cell regeneration, plasticity, and translational studies with clinicians! So it is very powerful, as a means to really branch out of ones’ area of expertise, and have a more impactful research activity, through enlarging the field of research through the expertise of all of us!

Schneider: The community covers lots of different aspects of epigenetics and chromatin research, including many groups with strong disease links. This diversity, the mixture of basic and more applied research as well as the high level of motivation and enthusiasm of group leaders, postdocs AND students makes the community strong and makes it enjoyable to be a part of.

What has been your highlight from the previous year?

Schneider: One highlight? – that’s difficult. epigenetics @HMGU was clearly successful in building up a strong community within HMGU, and also to reaching out to the Munich chromatin community and beyond. For me, the international Chromatin and Epigenetics meeting in April was something very special. This gave us high international visibility and we brought an impressive speaker line-up on the campus.

Torres-Padilla: For me, one of the highlights has been the super positive response we have received from the community and the motivation with which members participate in the meetings and activities. The HMGU-Japan symposium we held in September for example was met with great enthusiasm and really brought two excellent networks of epigenetics and chromatin researchers together, in terms of both group leaders and also PhD students and postdocs. I’m really excited to see how this will develop in the future.

What hopes do you have for epigenetics @HMGU in the future?

Schneider: I hope that in the coming years we can further strengthen the community, consolidate our ongoing activities and start new ones such as grant programs and actions specific for PhD students or medics.

Torres-Padilla: My hope for the next steps of epigenetics @HMGU is to continue to build a strong group, to make sure that our younger trainees identify as “epigeneticists @HMGU” and make the community work better for its members, for example, by incorporating their new ideas and feedback in to our actions.  In addition, I think it is important that we also give a strong identity to the outside world, for example, as students graduate and leave for a postdoc or another job.