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Research in cellular memory
Date:11/7/2011

How do fetal cells know what cell types to become? Why do cells in the adult body sometimes forget what they are and develop into cancer cells? These are some of the questions intensively investigated within the research field of epigenetics. Danish epigenetic research has a very strong position internationally and one of the players is Associate Professor Anja Groth from BRIC, University of Copenhagen. She has just received an ERC Starting Grant and has been selected for EMBO's prestigious Young Investigator Program (YIP).

"After the mapping of the human genome, it became clear that genes alone cannot explain the complexity of life. Genes need to be turned on or off in a specific order, to enable development of the 200 cell types in our body and to sustain their normal function throughout life. We have developed a new technology, which we can use to gain insight into how cellular memory is maintained when cells divide," says Anja Groth.

Special proteins called histones function as small building scaffolds, organising the DNA into a complex structure called chromatin. This structure can be open or closed, turning on or off selected genes. Every time a cell divides, the DNA is duplicated so that each daughter cell obtains an identical copy. Also, information on the histones and the chromatin structure needs to be copied, but this process is poorly understood. Research in the Groth laboratory focuses on how chromatin structure and information carried by small molecules on histones are duplicated and passed on during cell divisions. This is crucial for cellular memory and function, as it determines which genes are on or off.

"Losing cellular memory can be fatal. Mechanisms that establish and maintain chromatin structures are central for development of all cell types in our body and to maintain cellular function and prevent cancer later in life," says Anja Groth.

The research group's new technology facilitates investigations
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Contact: Associate Professor Anja Groth
anja.groth@bric.ku.dk
01-145-353-25538
University of Copenhagen
Source:Eurekalert

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