We are currently witnessing a fascinating revolution aimed to uncover the working modes of life.
Technological advancements are being constantly developed to increase the resolution and understanding of the multiple layers of information that make up life. The advent of high-throughput genomic technologies opened the possibility to read the genome, namely the set of instructions encoding a living being.
A twist in the plot comes from the fact that genome sequence does not immediately translate to function.
Since all of the cells in an organism have the same genome, how do they acquire different identities and perform completely different, yet coordinated, functions?
It is acknowledged that the basal unit of biological information is the DNA sequence, the molecular representation of the genome.
Fitting into the cell’s nucleus a molecule as large as the DNA is possible by wrapping the DNA around histones: scaffold proteins that can expose it or occlude it. The complex formed by the DNA around histones is known as chromatin.
Additionally, DNA nucleotides and the scaffold proteins of the chromatin can be chemically modified. Their interaction inherently impacts the accessibility of the DNA and consequently, the readout of the genome.
The addition of a methyl group to the fifth carbon of cytosine, known as 5-methylcytosine or DNA methylation, is an evolutionary ancient mechanism to epigenetically control gene expression and genome integrity.
DNA methylation plays a central role regulating developmental transitions, it can be epigenetically inherited over many generations and its mis-regulation is considered a hallmark of several human diseases.
Taking advantage of the huge amount of available genomic data, my research aims to better understand the prevalence and evolutionary history of the DNA methylation system.