Advancing Epigenetics Towards Systems Biology

Lasker award for epigenetics


Tomato, one of the crop plants under study by David Baulcombe's research team


Mouse-ear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), one of the most important plant model organisms


Chlamydomonas, a single-celled alga, also used by David's research team

September 2008

Brona McVittie reports

Congratulations to Epigenome member, David Baulcombe, Professor of Botany (Cambridge University, UK) for winning the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. David won the prize jointly with Victor Ambros (University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA) and Gary Ruvkun (Massachusetts General Hospital, USA) for their discovery of microRNAs.

David and his research team have been exploring the relationships between viruses and their hosts. They're interested in how plants acquire immunity to infectious agents and indeed how our leafy friends can recognise viruses at the molecular level. Such knowledge is key to breeding and engineering disease resistant plants and to understanding how immunity evolves.

The complex molecular interplay between host and virus includes RNA-based processes collectively known as RNA silencing. RNA has many functions inside cells. Before DNA becomes protein, the code must be transcribed through RNA. In addition to this role, short RNA molecules (not long enough to specify a protein product) play a helping hand in the direction of immune proteins.

For decades scientists have been aware that plants infected with a virus are resistant to infection by the same or related viruses, but not unrelated viruses. We now know that this immunity results from the presence of short silencing RNAs that are derived from the viral genome. These RNAs guide a protein called Argonaute to destroy the RNA of related viruses that might infect the plant. Coupled with that, there is an impact on the transcription of DNA at a chromatin level.

More generally, silencing has a role beyond virus resistance: it protects the genome by silencing transposons (mobile DNA elements that can hop around the genome). This maintains the integrity of chromosome structure and function and keeps gene expression right during growth, development and in response to external stimuli.

David is also keen to explore epigenetic effects in evolution, the role that RNA silencing has on natural variation within and between species.

Mon, May 29th 2017- Wed, May 31st 2017

After last year's successful kick-off meeting, the EpiGeneSwiss meeting will take place again in Weggis, Switzerland. This year we have added one day in addition to accommodate more topics and more t...

Mon, Jun 19th 2017- Wed, Jun 21st 2017

The focus of the 2017 IMB Conference is on “Gene Regulation by the Numbers: Quantitative Approaches to Study Transcription”. The conference will explore the latest findings and technological developme...

Tue, Jul 11th 2017- Thu, Jul 13th 2017

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol invites all professionals interested in aetiological epidemiology and Mendelian randomization to attend our conference on the subject...

Wed, Aug 30th 2017- Fri, Sep 1st 2017

The nucleosome is the fundamental building block of chromatin organisation and genome function. The 20th anniversary of the high resolution nucleosome structure marks a milestone for bringing together...


EpiGeneSys Final
Meeting in Paris

Thur. 11 February 2016 - Sat. 13 February 2016

More than 280 scientists attended the fifth Annual Meeting of EpiGeneSys. The conference kicked off with a talk by coordinator Geneviève Almouzni, Director of the Research Center at the Institut Curie, highlighting the achievements of the network over more than five years...

Maison des océans - Paris Read more


The Non-Coding Genome ...

December 3-4 th, 2015

The last training workshop of the EpiGeneSys network

Hotel Mediterraneo - Rome, Italy Read more

Paris / TriRhena Chromatin Club

July 9th, 2015

...exciting talks and network with members of the Chromatin community!

... An EpiGeneSys TAB workshop

June 11st-12nd , 2015

... learn about current approaches to single cell epigenetics and to meet up and network with...

Montpellier, FranceRead more

Latest publications


The impact of rare and low-frequency genetic variants in common disease.

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Stable Polycomb-dependent transgenerational inheritance of chromatin states in Drosophila.

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Stable Polycomb-dependent transgenerational inheritance of chromatin states in Drosophila.

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