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Dr. Eugene Oltz (from Washington University in St. Louis), "The Cancer Epigenome: Bugs in our Gene Expression Software"

Date: 09/20/12
Time: 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Audience: Public
Sponsored By: School of Science and Engineering
Location: Coykendall Science Building Auditorium
Contact: Dr. Julio Jorge Gonzalez, x3724,

As we forge ahead in the "-omics" era, we have discovered that many diseases are not caused by mutations in the human genome (our "hardware"). Instead, most diseases are rooted in chemical tags placed on histone proteins, which organize and package the genome within the nucleus. Patterns of these chemical modifications, collectively called the epigenome (our "software"), control gene activation and repression, guiding biological processes that range from stem cell differentiation to aging. Environmental triggers, including chemicals and food, can alter our epigenome. In cancer, epigenomic aberrations can silence cohorts of tumor suppressors and activate genes involved in proliferation. However, we have only begun to catalogue changes in the epigenome that characterize human disease and establish their underlying mechanisms. Our laboratory has discovered recurrent changes in the epigenome of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a cancer of the blood. Many of these signatures correspond to previously undiscovered control elements that drive aberrant expression of genes in NHL tumors. Understanding epigenetic mechanisms of oncogenesis will provide an unprecedented opportunity for therapeutic intervention in disease since, unlike genetic lesions, pathogenic changes to the epigenome are reversible.