Université de Strasbourg

Epigenetic Light

USIAS Fellow: David Hazlerigg

How an organism’s genotype (i.e. its DNA) predicts its phenotype (i.e. what it physically becomes) is one of the great problems in biology. This process, for which C.H. Waddington coined the term “epigenetics”, underlies the entire field of developmental biology and has profound implications when considering impacts of environmental exposure during pregnancy and early life.

Despite advances in understanding how epigenetics works at the cellular level, the link to life-history consequences months to years later has remained intractable. At the level of the cells from which organisms are built, epigenetics depends on persistent chemical changes to DNA, particularly methylation, which modify how genes are expressed. There is good evidence that the environment influences DNA methylation in adult tissues, but it has proved difficult to trace such effects back to their embryonic origins.

This USIAS project will focus on the effects of light exposure during pregnancy, which programme development and adult phenotype in seasonal animals. Because light programming acts through a highly specific pathway involving the hormone, melatonin, “epigenetic light” effects in embryonic development can be traced through to biological function in the adult. This provides a new paradigm to link adult physiology to cellular epigenetic programming in an unprecedented manner.

Poster with preliminary results


Investissements d'Avenir