Comparative Genome Biology
Seeking to understand how genetic and epigenetic mechanisms contribute to human diseases through comparisons with other mammalian species
The comparison of genes, genomes and epigenetic mechanisms in different species has provided many fundamental insights into how genes function in humans, how they evolved, and how they contribute to diseases. Studying genes in species distantly related to humans has also helped the development of novel drugs including treatment for type 2 diabetes.
The Comparative Genome Biology group studies gene evolution in mammalian species distantly related to humans – monotremes in particular. Monotremes (platypus and echidna) have an extraordinary sex chromosome system that can reveal novel genes and pathways involved in sex determination and differentiation in all mammals, including humans. Monotremes have undergone radical changes to their stomach anatomy and physiology, accompanied by massive loss or change of genes involved in digestion. Studying monotremes provides the opportunity to identify the role of key genes involved in stomach function and metabolism in humans, and may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets for metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
In 2014 we continued to investigate the role of genes in the piRNA pathway in the ovary and ovarian cancer. We also began new research to investigate if the interaction of genes in the nucleus changes in ovarian cancer when compared to normal cells. We finished our analysis of the histology of the monotreme pancreas and continued our work on GLP-1 mediated Insulin release. Additionally, our long-term collaboration with Professor Kaessmann culminated in two Nature publications, which provided fundamental insights into the evolution of non-coding RNAs and Y-chromosomes in mammals.
Current Research Areas
- Sex chromosome evolution and function in mammals
- Evolution and function of genes involved in metabolic control
- Evolution of monoallelic gene expression and genomic imprinting
- Evolution of non coding RNAs in reproduction
- Function of the piRNA pathway in ovarian cancer
- Application and development of molecular tools to aid monotreme field biology, conservation and captive breeding
- Investigating mosquitofish sex determination as a tool for pest animal control