Professor Yang Shi is recognised by EMBO for his significant contributions to epigenetic research, which explores how chemical modifications made to chromatin influence the organisation and expression of the human genome. Errors in those processes can drive cancer and many other diseases and disorders. In 2004, Shi and his colleagues identified and characterised an enzyme, LSD1, that erases methyl marks from histones. Their discovery upended a 40-year-old dogma that considered such modifications irreversible, altering longstanding models of genomic regulation.
Shi’s lab went on to identify numerous other histone demethylases and described their roles in an array of biological processes. More recently, his group has discovered that LSD-1 inhibition can spark anti-tumour immune responses even against immunologically “cold” tumours. His group also identified several enzymes that methylate RNA, which represent new opportunities to investigate RNA modifications in gene expression regulation and cancer.
EMBO has in its membership 1,900 eminent scientists elected by their peers to promote excellence in the life sciences in Europe and beyond. Altogether, 90 Nobel laureates have been members of the organisation since it was established in 1964. Shi is one of 58 new members elected to the organisation this year, along with nine associate members working in seven countries outside Europe.
Shi joined the Oxford Branch in 2020 from Harvard University. In addition to his Ludwig post, he is a Professor in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford. Shi has received many honours for his contributions to epigenetics and is a fellow of the Academy of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an American Cancer Society Research Professor.