Epigenetic research at FMI
After the successful deciphering of the human genome in 2001, it soon became clear that the DNA sequence can not in itself suffice to explain how organisms develop and function. Although all the cells in the human body harbor exactly the same DNA, the differences between a skin cell and a neuron are enormous. In each cell type at each time point a very distinct set of genes is activated, controlling specificity and identity. The history of a cell or organism can also have an impact on the efficiency or the pattern of gene expression. Whether a gene becomes activated depends on epigenetic alterations, i.e., the structure of the genome in the cell nucleus (chromatin structure) and chemical modifications of histones and the DNA itself (primarily lysine modification and cytosine methylation).
Epigenetic regulation is affected not only by lifestyle and the environment but can be passed on from one generation to the next. Epigenetic control is crucial for defining stem cell identity and is responsible in many cases for the misregulation of genes that leads to cancer, dystrophies and neuronal disorders.
Groups at FMI focusing on epigenetic questions:
Non-coding RNAs and chromatin
Jeffrey A. Chao
Regulation of gene expression
Posttranscriptional gene regulation
Biological clocks and timers in development
Transcriptional and epigenetic networks and function of histone deacetylases in mammals
Antoine H.F.M. Peters
Epigenetic control of mouse germ cell and early embryonic development
Gene regulation in chromatin