Epigenetics and Molecular Biomarkers

Epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNAs, modify chromatin structure and gene expression without changing the underlying DNA sequence. Unlike genetic mutations, which represent rare events with permanent consequences on genes, epigenetic changes are reversible and responsive to environmental influences. Epigenetic research not only provides tremendous opportunities to identify novel disease mechanisms, but may also decode epigenomic profiles that could serve as molecular archives of previous life experiences and predictors of an individual’s risks of future disease.

Using highly quantitative genome-scale technologies for DNA methylation analysis, we examine DNA methylation responses to a variety of environmental pollutants that are well known to be relevant to disease causation. Recently, the lab has also been working with epigenetic clocks as an estimate of age based on DNA methylation levels. We are dedicated to using state-of-the-art techniques for epigenomic analysis, not only investigating DNA methylation, but also mitochondrial DNA and non-coding RNA. We are currently establishing novel methods for genome-wide epigenomic analyses based on next-generation sequencing.

As a lab focused on molecular biology, we are also interested in exposure biomarkers beyond epigenetics that can be used as early predictors of disease. Some of these biomarkers of interest include extracellular vesicles and their cargo (miRNAs, lncRNAs, proteins), mitochondriomics, transcriptomics, tRNA, and telomeres. Through recent collaborations, our team is also developing metabolomic analyses related to environmental exposures.

For definitions of some commonly used terms in epigenetics please visit our Epigenetics Glossary.

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