Professor Ryan Lister, an expert in the use of advanced DNA sequencing technologies and computational biology to understand how complex biological systems work, has been appointed to The University of Western Australia.
Professor Ryan Lister, the University's new Winthrop Professor of Computational Systems Biology, will greatly strengthen UWA's activities in next-generation genomics* technologies and generate discoveries relevant to many areas of biomedical and plant science.
UWA graduate Professor Lister has returned to his alma mater after carrying out research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California. At UWA he will head his own research laboratory, working closely with the team at the Centre of Excellence in Computational Systems Biology and with colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
"Each distinct type of cell in an organism - from heart cardiomyocytes to the neurons in the brain of humans, and from flower pollen to leaf stomata in plants - possesses a unique epigenome*," Professor Lister said.
"By using revolutionary new DNA sequencing technologies to comprehensively map these different epigenomes throughout diverse cell types and decrypting the epigenetic code, we hope to understand how the epigenome functions in normal growth and development as well as how it is disturbed by disease and environmental stress.
"Armed with such knowledge, it may be possible to repair a damaged epigenome."
Professor Lister will use next-generation sequencing, genomic, biochemical and computational techniques to investigate how complex epigenomic patterns in the genomes of mammals, social insects and plants are established and modified. He will also examine how these patterns affect the cellular readout of the underlying genetic information, and develop molecular tools to specifically engineer the epigenome in order to correct its dysfunction in diseases or enhance plant growth.
Professor Lister earned his PhD at UWA, investigating how mitochondria - the energy factories in cells - are built. At the Salk Institute, he used revolutionary DNA sequencing technologies to develop techniques for mapping epigenomes. He used these methods to generate the first whole-genome high-resolution maps of DNA methylation, a chemical modification placed on DNA and an essential component of the epigenome, in a plant, human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent adult stem cells.
His work has been published in Cell (2008) and in Nature (2009, 2011). His most recent Nature paper was the most highly cited biology paper in the world in 2011.
*A genome is a full set of chromosomes, or all the inheritable traits of an organism.
*An epigenome is the regulatory layer superimposed on the genome, controlling how a cell reads the information encoding in its DNA and in turn how the cell behaves.