Prof. Hugh Patterton
Bioinformatics of the epigenome
DNA is packaged into chromatin in eukaryotes to fit the enormous length of DNA (approximately 2m in humans) into a cell nucleus of about 10um diameter. This is achieved by the repetitive packaging of the DNA into structures known as nucleosomes. Although this achieves the packaging requirement, it introduces a significant problem in terms of access of the DNA molecule to proteins that are required interact with it to fulfil its genetic function. The eukaryotic cell has evolved numerous mechanisms that take advantage of the repressive effect of chromatin to regulate DNA function. This includes ATP-dependent chromatin remodellers, swapping in/out of histone isotypes into the nucleosome, chemical modification of specific residues in the N-terminal histone tails, and chemical modification of the DNA bases. Some of these modifications are trans-generationally heritable, and such modifications form part of the epigenome. The epigenome contains the signatures of many environmental factors, including nutrition, stress, etc.
Prof. Patterton’s research in bioinformatics is focused on the development of methods and coding of programs to investigate the role of the epigenome in the regulation of DNA function. This includes software for the analysis of physical clustering of co-regulated genes, the genome-wide distribution of nucleosomes and signals involved in precise positioning of nucleosomes at select genomic loci, and the distribution and function of specific epigenetic histone marks.