Epigenome research is providing great leaps forward in our understanding of the workings of human and plant genomes, and promising significant advances in human health, regenerative medicine and agriculture.
By generating comprehensive maps of the epigenome using advanced DNA sequencing technologies, we have discovered previously unanticipated epigenome complexity in plants and people.
My laboratory is focused upon understanding how these complex epigenomic patterns are established and altered, how they affect the readout of underlying genetic information, their role in plant response to challenging environmental conditions, human brain development and function, cellular reprogramming, and developing molecular tools to precisely edit the epigenome.
The epigenome is a molecular code superimposed upon the genome that controls how genes are turned on and off, without altering the DNA sequence. Acting as miniscule chemical signposts added to the genome that instruct the cell how to use the underlying genetic information, the epigenome plays essential roles in controlling cell function, development, learning and memory, whilst its disruption is involved in genome instability, cancer and neurological disorders.
New high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies now allow us to comprehensively map the epigenome, identifying the precise location of essentially all of these chemical signposts throughout an entire genome of an organism, and revealing how these signposts change during development or in disease.
Research in my laboratory aims to understand the role of the epigenome in development and cellular function, in both healthy and disease or stress states.
In the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, our research is focused upon mapping the dynamic changes in the epigenome that occur in response to nutrient starvation in plants. These studies aim to identify the potential role of the epigenome in plant acclimation to challenging environmental conditions. We are also investigating how natural disruption of the epigenome may allow parasitic DNA elements to copy themselves and move within the plant genome. This research will provide insights into the plasticity of the plant epigenome, and identify processes by which both genetic and epigenetic diversity might be unleashed in order to generate potentially useful plant variants with agriculturally valuable attributes.
We also conduct research aimed at understanding the role of the epigenome in animal development, cellular reprogramming, cell function, and the brain. We are exploring how the epigenome is remodelled during deliberate manipulation of cellular identity in the production of stem cells, and the impact of epigenetic memory that remains in these cells. Following on from our recent discovery of widespread epigenome reconfiguration during human brain development, we are conducting experiments to identify the role of the epigenome in brain function, development, neuronal activity, and neurological disorders. Finally, in both plant and animal systems we are pioneering new molecular tools to precisely edit the epigenome.
Together, our research aims to provide major advances in understanding the role of the epigenome in plant diversity and response to challenging environments, in human brain function and disease, in advancing the application of regenerative medicine, and in remedying epigenetic dysfunction in disease states.
- Jose-Luis Gomez Skarmeta- Andalusian Centre of Developmental Biology, Seville, Spain,
- Michiel Vermeulen - Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Nijmegen, The Netherlands,
- Joseph R. Ecker - The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, USA
- Marga Behrens - The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, USA