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Synthetic Systems Biology and Nuclear Organisation

Synthetic Systems Biology and Nuclear Organisation

Group leader prof. Hans Westerhoff

Living organisms only persist because their components are networking continuously at all levels of organisation, in both time and space. Systems Biology is an exciting science aiming to discover the principles of Life that determine how functions emerge from interactions. For proper functions to emerge, networking between molecules controlling life must be both complex and to the point. In order to understand and design biological functioning, this group engages in the precise acquisition of dynamic molecular and structural information and the building of mathematical models.

While organisms consist of many different cell types, all cells of one individual have the same genome. Epigenetic regulatory mechanisms, such as 3D genome folding, chemical modifications on DNA and connected histone proteins play a main role in establishing and maintaining cell type identity. Our goal is to comprehend how dynamic gene expression regulatory interactions in single cells together determine cell behaviour. Our methodology involves a multi-disciplinary approach combining microscopic, molecular, biochemical, genetic analyses, and mathematical modelling. We employ different model organisms to obtain unique insights into structure-function relationships of the eukaryotic genome in the nucleus. Since epigenetic regulation is very flexible and reversible it opens many opportunities for (therapeutic) intervention.

  • Research lines Synthetic Systems Biology and Nuclear Organisation

    Research line dr. P.J. (Pernette) Verschure

    All cells of one individual contain the same genetic material. But how do cells acquire cell identity and keep memory of their tissue origin. Our epigenome is essential in orchestrating the level and timing of its thousands of genes. Epigenetic patterning is crucial for 'healthy' cell and tissue performance. Many diseases are associated with an altered epigenetic landscape. Since epigenetic regulation is in principle flexible and reversible it opens unique opportunities for (therapeutic) intervention.

    How dynamic epigenetic interactions emerge in single cells and how they contribute to biological functionality is still largely unresolved. The subject is timely and current technological breakthroughs open an unexplored, exciting field of research with great potential for individualized medicine.

    The Verschure group uses a systems epigenetics approach studying the role of complex epigenetic interactions underlying cell state switching to understand functional cell behavior.

    We currently focus on:

    1. Breast cancer endocrine therapy resistance development (EU H2020 EpiPredict consortium coordinated by dr. Verschure)
    2. UV-induced damage and repair (Zon-MW TOP)
    3. Age determination for forensic applications (collaboration NFI and CLHC).

    Since we combine computer modelling with state-of-the-art epigenetic technologies (e.g. CRISPR/dCas epigenetic editing) and timely single cell approaches, we are at the core of basic and biomedical research questions which provides us interest from colleagues and a wide-range of funding opportunities. 

    More information is available on the "research line" page: research line Pernette Verschure and personal profile page of dr. Verschure (below).

    dr. P.J. (Pernette) Verschure

    Associate professor