Cornell University

Distinguished speaker in Genome Biology: "Discovery of cis regulatory elements using chromatin structure in plant genomes" - Robert Schmitz

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 12:20pm

Plant Science Building, 404

Robert Schmitz 

Population Epigenomics and Mechanisms of Epigenetics, University of Georgia

Robert Schmitz is an Associate Professor of Genetics at the University of Georgia. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin and his NIH Postdoctoral Fellow from the Salk Institute. 

Abstract: Significant progress has been made in recent years in plant genome assembly and gene annotation. However, the systematic identification of plant cis-regulatory DNA elements remains a challenge, as methods that are highly effective in animals do not translate to plants. A comprehensive and well-curated data set of plant cis-regulatory DNA elements is instrumental to understanding transcriptional regulation during development and/or in response to external stimuli. In addition, cis-regulatory DNA elements are also hotspots for genetic variations underlying key agronomical traits. We have discovered a plant-specific chromatin signature that is indicative of cis-regulatory DNA elements. We are using this newly identified signature in combination with high-throughput validation assays to systematically identify, analyze and functionally validate cis-regulatory elements in important crop species.

Research Focus: We are interested in determining how phenotypic plasticity and diversity are driven by natural and spontaneous epigenetic variation. Recent advances in genomic technologies are enabling acquisition of sequence-level data at an unprecedented rate and resolution. As a result, genomes for thousands of individuals are being analyzed to determine the total genetic variation present within a species and to determine the impact these variants have on phenotypic variation. Missing from these efforts is the identification of environmentally induced, spontaneous and natural epigenetic alleles (epialleles).

We apply epigenomic approaches to populations to study the impact that epialleles have on life history traits and to understand their role in establishing responses to the environment. These epialleles are often associated with changes in their DNA methylation status making their identification possible. Systematically identifying these epialleles, understanding their patterns of heritability, their interaction with genetic variants and their specific roles in controlling gene expression is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of phenotypic variation.

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