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Purpose of the Research Project

Germ cells are unique in that they have the capacity to contribute genes to offspring. This suggests that they have unique biological characteristics that are not found in somatic cells. Studies of germ cells have identified many differences between germ and somatic cells, and have contributed greatly to the development of human infertility treatment, such as in vitro fertilization.

Recent studies of germ cells have identified the critical roles of epigenetic gene regulators in germ cell fate determination. Germ cells have to erase their epigenetic information while transmitting the genetic information to the offspring. Such dynamic epigenetic changes are found only in germ cells and this has implications in understanding the mechanism of genomic imprinting and nuclear cloning. In the past 5 years, many epigenetic modifier genes have been cloned, and the functions of these genes analyzed by gene targeting. Moreover, the role of germ cell-specific small RNAs in DNA methylation induction was also discovered recently, increasing our knowledge of the mechanism of DNA methylation and its relationship with histone modification. Although we still do not know all of the molecules involved in epigenetic regulation in germ cells, we are now at the stage where we understand how these epigenetic regulators are coordinated to form a stage-specific epigenome during germ cell development. Understanding the basic principle of epigenome formation and maintenance will be an important goal of this project.

Another notable recent development is the manipulation of the epigenome. It has become possible to control and normalize deregulated gene expression by manipulating the epigenome. The development of new methods to manipulate the epigenome will be another important goal of our team.


Head investigator:
Prof. Takashi Shinohara

Department of Molecular Genetics, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University.

Yoshida-Konoe-cho,Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan

Prof. Masahito Ikawa

Animal Resource Center for Infectious Diseases, Research Institute for Microbial Diseases, Osaka University.

Yamadaoka 3-1, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan