All of the cell’s genetic information is contained in the nucleus within chromosomes, which are organized at several levels. The double-helix strands of DNA are wrapped around small proteins called histones to form nucleosomes. Adding to this basic unit of compaction are a plethora of associated proteins and RNAs, forming chromatin. Strands of chromatin are compartmentalized with the help of complexes of regulatory proteins bound to specific DNA sequences, called chromatin insulators. All of these structural levels contribute to how the genetic code within the DNA strands gets expressed to produce the proteins and RNAs used in cellular processes.
My laboratory is interested in how chromatin insulators help to control gene expression, i.e., which genes are turned on or off. Studying how chromatin insulators work and how they are regulated is essential; this improves our understanding of the way in which this level of chromatin organization influences the reading (transcription) of genes during cell, tissue, and organ development and differentiation. It is especially important to understand these processes since a complex organism like a human grows from a single fertilized cell.
Because the genetic material, or genome, of the fruit fly Drosophila, is easier to work with than human or other mammalian genomes, we primarily use Drosophila as a model system for exploring how chromatin insulators work. Also, the Drosophila genome has the largest diversity of known chromatin insulators.