The study of modifications to DNA that promote changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence
What is epigenetics?The activity of our genes is determined by more than their DNA sequence alone. Active and silent genes are distinguished by epigenetic marks – chemical tags that are added to the DNA or to the proteins around which the DNA is organised on chromosomes.
All cells in the body are derived from stem cells, which have the unique ability of being able to give rise to any cell type.
Epigenetic marks play important roles in defining different cell types in the body and can be influenced by environmental and nutritional factors.
Why is it important?We are particularly interested in the epigenomes of the stem cells that contribute to, and are present in, the early embryo.
Using these cells we can uncover how epigenetic information affects the function of important organs such as the placenta, the heart, or the brain and behaviour throughout life. It is known that epigenetic marks decline during the ageing process.
Our research will provide approaches by which epigenetics can be manipulated in cells and organisms, potentially leading to enhanced stem cells and applications in regenerative medicine.
What is our research?Using state-of-the-art technology, most of which we have developed ourselves, we are performing analyses to study the epigenome and gene expression patterns of mammals during embryonic development. This information allows us to unravel how epigenetic marks influence development.
We are defining signalling pathways in stem cells that induce reprogramming of the epigenome on a large scale. Additionally, we are studying the enzymes that regulate the epigenome together with factors such as RNA that can help to target specific epigenetic marks.