Babraham announced as partner in €M30 European project to decipher the epigenome
Researchers from the Babraham Institute’s Epigenetics Laboratories are partners in an exciting new initiative, launched this month by the health-research division of the European Commission with an investment of €30-million. The 4 year project, known as BLUEPRINT, aims to unravel how the epigenome influences health and disease and will be a major contributor to the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC).
The UK has been formally accepted to be an official partner in IHEC, led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) with participation from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Wellcome Trust, and CRUK-funded research groups. Epigenetics is a highly competitive international field, revolutionising the historical understanding of genetic inheritance and also helping to explain how our genes can be influenced by the environment. The genome can be thought of as the ‘building blocks’ but the epigenome actually defines how the building blocks construct living things; the epigenome is the blueprint of our developmental regulation.
‘Epigenetic’ methylation tags are a higher level of regulation above the DNA sequence, enabling genes to be switched on or off in different places at different times, leading to the amazing complexity seen in humans despite the relatively small number of unique genes. The consortium brings together 41 research entities -- including University Research Labs, Research Institutes and life sciences companies -- and anticipates that this research effort will bring new understanding of how epigenomes change during normal development and healthy ageing in addition to insights into how epigenomes are modified by the environment and nutritional factors.
Faulty epigenetic regulation is known to be implicated in diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as conditions like diabetes and obesity. The project has the ambitious goal of cataloguing the epigenomes of 100 different cell types, with a focus on hematopoietic cells and leukemia disease states.
Professor Wolf Reik, Associate Director at the Babraham Institute and Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Cambridge said, “It is clear that our susceptibility to disease can only be partially explained by genes alone and epigenetics is emerging as an important research area that is bringing insight to many adult conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disorders. The purpose of project BLUEPRINT is to determine the properties and functions of epigenomes in development and disease. The epigenomic sequencing technologies that we are developing here at Babraham will play a pivotal part in deciphering how the epigenome choreographs the development and wellbeing of living things.”
The IHEC will coordinate the epigenome mapping and characterisation worldwide, co-ordinating data storage, management and analysis, thereby maximising efficiency among the scientists working to understand, treat, and prevent diseases. Importantly it will provide free access to the epigenomes produced to the world-wide research community and will disseminate information about the methods developed by IHEC members, including the Babraham Institute, to produce, analyze, and integrate large epigenomic datasets related to health and diseases, in human and in model organisms. The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, undertakes world-leading life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health.
Babraham’s Director, Professor Michael Wakelam added, “Epigenetic regulation of the genome has far-reaching effects on human development and ageing. Unlocking the principles of epigenome reprogramming also has important implications for regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy to treat disease. Babraham’s involvement in this exciting international research consortium - project Blueprint - will not only provide vital clues about how epigenetics affects the normal functioning of our bodies and pinpoint epigenetic factors contributing to lifelong health, but will also make a valuable impact in the world-wide research community through its knowledge and expertise of epigenomic sequencing.”
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About the Babraham Institute:
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, health and well-being and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.
The International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC) The International Human Epigenome Consortium will coordinate epigenome mapping and characterisation worldwide to avoid redundant research effort, to implement high data quality standards, to coordinate data storage, management and analysis and to provide free access to the epigenomes produced.
The expectations are that the outcome of the research carried out by the members of IHEC will be extensive. First and foremost will be the availability of reference human epigenomes to the world-wide research community. Second, will be valuable information on the methods utilized by IHEC members to produce, analyze, and integrate large epigenomic datasets related to health and diseases, in human and in model organisms. Third, it will become possible to compare different human populations thereby evaluating the impact of environment and nutrition on the epigenome. IHEC will facilitate communication among the members and provide a forum for coordination, with the objective of maximizing efficiency among the scientists working to understand, treat, and prevent diseases. http://www.ihec-epigenomes.org/