Chromatin Modification Dynamics in Development:
An emerging area of interest in the laboratory is how chromatin modifications help guide early development. We are interested in how chromatin and chromatin modifiers help germ cells and zygotes acquire pluripotency, and how these factors subsequently contribute to cell fate commitments during early embryogenesis. Here, Kunal Rai, Itrat Jafri, Magdalena Potok, and Shan-Fu Wu are studying the dynamic chromatin structure of germ cells (sperm and eggs), zygotes, and early embryos, using the zebrafish model system. A major new effort is the characterization of a DNA demethylase enzyme system in zebrafish (with clear human homologs), which may be utilized at many points in the germline and embryo to reset transcriptional competency. We are currently setting up a Center for Zebrafish Epigenetics and Chromatin (CZECH) which will be a resource for many labs interested in this area to view, store, analyze, and interpret genomics data from zebrafish. Furthermore, Sue Hammoud (in collaboration with Douglas Carrell, University of Utah) is studying the chromatin status of human sperm to better understand its contributions to embryo development and to human fertility. Finally, we have developed new methods for genomics analysis, such as strand-specific transcriptome determinations (an effort led by Natalie Dutrow) to understand chromatin-transcription relationships and to discover more about the functions of non-coding RNAs in chromatin and transcriptional regulation.