The search for novel regulatory elements in C.elegans

Gene expression is the process by which a gene’s information is interpreted via RNA messengers to regulate all aspects of cell growth and function. Errors in this complex process can cause birth defects and diseases such as cancer. Although the mapping of the human genome was a major breakthrough in gene research, much remains to be learned about the molecular mechanisms which determine when a gene will be turned on and off (i.e. signaled to start or stop the production of messengers to co-ordinate specific types of cellular activity). Monica Sleumer is studying how genes are controlled at the molecular level. She is using the nematode (roundworm) C. elegans as a model organism because its genome has been fully sequenced (its genes are known) and it has been shown to share basic regulatory elements with humans. Using sophisticated bioinformatic methods for sorting and analyzing genetic data, Monica is investigating what turns genes on and off under different conditions and in different tissues. Ultimately, results from Monica’s research on the C. elegans will lead to new understanding of the much more complex human genome and the consequences for health when regulation errors occur.