How interaction with the environment can influence genes and genetic inheritance
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 and healthy ageing.
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.
Our 2018 Annual Research Report includes feature articles highlighting some of the themes that each research programme is working on. The Epigenetics feature "Riding the data wave", reflects on how the explosion of experimental data, and the challenges of interpreting it, are changing the process of scientific discovery.
"Big data is revolutionising science. But as well as changing physics, chemistry and biology, it’s changing the nature of science itself. Institute researchers Wolf Reik and Stefan Schoenfelder and bioinformatics expert Simon Andrews reflect on how big data is re-shaping not only the way they work, but how they think. And we discover how bioinformatics – once considered a geeky corner of biology by some – has become central to scientific progress...."continue reading