Chemical epigenetics

Dr Chunxiao Song

Our genome is not a static combination of four nucleobases; it contains epigenetic modifications that play crucial roles biology from development to pathogenesis. Epigenetics is based on complex, multi-layer regulatory networks involving DNA, histones and RNA.

For example, on the genome level, 5-methylcytosine is a crucial epigenetic mark that influences a broad range of biological functions, and additional DNA modifications including 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-formylcytosine and 5-carboxylcytosine, have been discovered recently. On the transcriptome level, mRNA has recently been found to have dynamic and reversible chemical modifications, opening the field of epitranscriptomics. These newly discovered DNA and RNA modifications are spurring dramatic changes in our understanding of how dynamic changes in epigenetic modifications regulate transcription and cellular differentiation, thus influencing normal development and disease.

We combine various chemical biology, biophysics and genomic approaches to analyze the epigenome. We are developing approaches to use epigenetic information in body fluids for non-invasive disease diagnostics including early detection of cancer. In addition, we aim to understand the contribution of epigenetic heterogeneity in cancer development.