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Finding the Ghost in the Genome: Assessing the contribution of epigenetics to environmental plasticity in the soil sentinel Lumbricus rubellus (EpiWorm)
Start date: Sep 1, 2013, End date: Aug 31, 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

It has been established that the epigenetic landscape (cytosine methylation, histone modification and non coding RNAs) impacts on the underlying genomic architecture thereby regulating the transcriptional machinery and modifying gene expression. These elegant mechanisms of control influence tissue differentiation, organism life spam and can coordinate biochemical pathways responses to stressors such as UV light and elevated metal ion concentrations. It is the aim of this project to test the overarching hypothesis that:“Alterations in the epigenetic landscape caused by exposure to environmental contaminants directly modulate the expression of specific genes increasing phenotypic plasticity and providing the mechanistic basis underpinning the organism’s responses to the stress inducing causative stimuli.”We will test this hypothesis using, the epigeic earthworm L. rubellus, establishing it as a model to study the interactions between the environment and the epigenome.The experiment plan is designed to derive a causative relationship between modifications in the epigenome and the ability of an organism to tolerate specific environmental challenges. The project will primarily exploit metals/metalloids (Ni & As) with a mechanism-of-action with postulated impact on the epigenome, but the wider aim is to establish a new paradigm between the epigenetic landscape and the environment.The training programme will put great emphasis on exploring the opportunities provided by next generation sequencing technologies and the rich genomic resource provided by our target organism. This will require training in the technical, bioinformatics and informative frame works that will enable the production of a refined physical map of the earthworm epigenomic landscape. The training will exploit an established network of national and international partnerships with the primary goal of establishing the proposed fellow as a research leader in their own right.
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