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Epigenetic regulation of cell identity and environmental stress response

We use the C. elegans germline to understand how epigenetic modifications, alone or in combination, influence cell identity. Germ cells must transmit genetic information across generations, and produce gametes while also maintaining the potential to form all cell types after fertilization. Studies in a range of organisms suggest that dynamic changes in chromatin organization are essential for these processes.

The highly conserved COMPASS complex is responsible for methylation of H3K4, a mark found predominantly at promoter regions. We have found that inactivation of single COMPASS components results in increased genome instability, progressive loss of fertility (known as a mortal germline phenotype, mrt), and conversion of germ cells into somatic cells. Interestingly, some of these phenotypes are influenced by environmental stress. COMPASS-mediated H3K4 methylation therefore appears to play an essential role in the maintenance of germcell identity, stability, and the response to stress. We want to understand how COMPASS influences these processes using genetic analysis, genome-wide approaches, proteomics and microscopy techniques.