Structural and functional analysis of epigenetic multi-protein complexes in genome regulation

Structural and functional analysis of epigenetic multi-protein complexes in genome regulation

Project details

DNA activity is tightly controlled, and its integrity is protected to control gene expression and cell fate, without altering the underlying genetic code. Such level of regulation is achieved through the compaction of DNA into a complex three-dimensional structure in which genes are inactive, known as heterochromatin – the genomic ‘dark matter’ of a cell. This epigenetic control is crucial for human development and health because it defines the identity, and therefore the role, of every cell in the body. Unsurprisingly, malfunction of these processes leads to cancer, developmental defects, ageing and susceptibility to infectious diseases.  

This exciting project will focus on understanding the structural basis of how various multi-protein complexes regulate heterochromatin. Students will use insect cell expression system to produce these complexes, followed by in vitro reconstitution of their activities and cryo-electron microscopy and mass spectrometry to elucidate atomic details of them. 

About our research group

Our laboratory uses a hybrid approach to study the structure and function of multi-protein complexes involved in genome regulation and protection (Shakeel, Rajendra et al Nature 2019; Alcon, Shakeel et al Nature Str Mol Bio 2020, Siljacki et al Nature Str Mol Bio in press). We in vitro reconstitute activity of these cellular machines to dissect the role of each subunit and built atomic models using single particle cryo-electron microscopy and complementary mass spectrometry methods (native, cross-linking and hydrogen-deuterium exchange). By understanding the structure and mechanisms of these complexes, we will gain insight into the regulation of gene expression and find new targets of intervention when these processes are disrupted. 

We are a team of biochemists and structural biologists with 10 years of experience in cryo-electron microscopy and biochemistry. Our collaborators in Oxford and Berlin provides us expertise in mass spectrometry.


Email supervisors



Dr Shabih Shakeel

Dr Shabih Shakeel photographed at WEHI
Laboratory Head
Photo of Dr Winnie Tan
Structural Biology

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