Just as the fixed notes of a musical instrument can be played in different combinations, orders and strengths to create unique songs, different cells in a complex multicellular organism can produce their distinctive form and function by each expressing particular combinations of genes from the genome. By modulating accessibility to the information encoded in the genome, epigenetic modifications can affect gene activation and repression to execute distinct transcriptional programs and impart a heritable state of transcriptional activity. In essence, the epigenome is a regulatory code that is superimposed upon the genome that can modify the cellular readout of the underlying information encoded in the DNA sequence. Developing a comprehensive understanding of how the cell utilizes epigenetic modifications is essential in order to both understand the critical roles it plays in eukaryotic development and stress response, and to develop effective strategies to remedy its disruption in disease states.
We use advanced DNA sequencing, molecular, genetic and computational techniques in a diverse range of complex multicellular organisms, including plants, humans, mice, and social insects, to study the epigenome and epigenetic mechanisms at the molecular scale. Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology now enable us to rapidly identify precisely where epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, occur throughout entire plant and animal genomes1-3. The research in my laboratory aims to understand how the information encoded in the DNA of plant and animal genomes is controlled by epigenetic mechanisms during development, how the epigenome may be altered by the surrounding environment, and to develop molecular tools to reprogram it.