Uncovering the Epigenetic Codes for Genome Integrity and Environmental Interaction

2017 - presentpresent

Epigenetic modification is an important gene regulatory mechanism and plays quintessential roles in the control of genome integrity, development, environmental responses, and diseases. Despite the large amount of studies describing altered modification patterns in abnormal developmental and pathological tissues, whether they are a cause or a consequence is poorly understood. This project dissects molecular mechanism of epigenetic regulation and functional consequences of altered epigenetic patterns under physiological conditions. Specifically, we investigate 1) how chromatin senses and memorizes the environmental stimuli; 2) how an epigenetic switch regulates developmental phase transition; and 3) how epigenetic modification safeguards the genome integrity. We use the flowering plant Arabidopsis, proved to be a robust system for mechanistic epigenetic studies, as our model system. Arabidopsis shares with mammals the common core cytosine DNA methylation machinery that is lacking in other model organisms (e.g. Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Caenorhabditis elegans, and Drosophila melanogaster). Importantly, Arabidopsis tolerates null mutations in most epigenetic regulators that are often lethal in animals, providing a significant advantage to investigate in-depth mechanisms under developmental and physiological conditions. As we probe basic principles governing epigenetic regulation that are conserved across eukaryotic organisms, knowledge acquired from our pioneering studies in Arabidopsis will help accelerate progress in deciphering the relevant mechanisms in human. In-depth mechanistic knowledge is crucial for understanding how epigenetic modification contributes to developmental defects and disease. Such knowledge will provide the necessary insight to develop new medicines that target the respective epigenetic processes.