In order for an organism to function properly, each cell in its body needs to express the correct genes. At the same time, genes which are not needed, as well as potentially harmful transposons, must be kept silent. Epigenetic mechanisms, which include small RNAs and chemical modifications to the DNA and histones, allow cells to stably activate or silence genes without changing the underlying DNA sequence. This system of regulation of gene activity is essential for development and normal cell function. With age, epigenetic errors can mistakenly silence important genes, disrupting cell function and contributing to diseases such as cancer.
At IMB, groups that focus on epigenetics hold regular journal clubs on topics of common interest (such as the R-loop club), and several of IMB’s most recent international conferences have focused on epigenetic themes.
Epigenetics research topics at IMB include:
- Mechanisms of active DNA demethylation
- Epigenetic regulation of transposons in the germline
- piRNA silencing in the germline
- Mechanisms of gene dosage compensation
- Chromatin remodelling complexes in neuronal development and disease