Our Spotlight this month is on Dr Lee Wong, head of the Epigenetics and Chromatin (EpiC) Research Laboratory at Monash University in Melbourne.
Lee completed her PhD (2000) at Monash with Dr Stephen Ralph, working on interferon signalling and melanoma. Her post-doctoral work with Prof Andy Choo at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute marked the beginning of her chromosome biology studies, and in 2012 she established her own lab, the Epigenetics and Chromatin (EpiC) Research Laboratory, in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash. Her time at Monash so far has been fruitful and her past achievements and future scientific potential were recognised when Lee was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2014.
The main focus of Lee’s group is to identify new epigenetic factors that regulate centromere and telomere function. In doing so, they aim to uncover mechanisms that control chromosome stability and genetic transmission, which are pertinent to cell growth, tissue differentiation and embryo development.
The Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships scheme supports research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia. The aim of Future Fellowships is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers by providing four-year fellowships.
Lee’s work was among the first to demonstrate the importance of RNA polymerase II transcription and noncoding RNA as epigenetic determinants at the centromere. She also pioneered the concept that telomeres in pluripotent embryonic stem cells comprise unique epigenetic marks, and discovered two new epigenetic regulators, ATRX and H3.3, at telomeres.
Already this year, the EpiC group has had a number of publications. In two two papers published in Nucleic Acids Research, they described novel regulatory mechanisms of histone variant H3.3, whereby elevated CHK1 phosphorylates H3.3Serine31 in ALT (Alternative Lengthening of telomeres) cancer cells that lack ATRX, contributing to the maintenance of chromatin integrity and cancer cell survival. They have further characterised the function of histone variant H3.3, demonstrating how H3.3 is targeted for K9 trimethylation, establishing a heterochromatic state enriched in trimethylated H3.3K9 at telomeres. This provides important insight into the role of H3.3 in controlling epigenetic inheritance at a constitutive heterochromatic domain. Overall, Lee’s research is enhancing our understanding of fundamental epigenetic mechanisms that regulate chromatin states, and their contribution towards the control of cell cycle, genome stability and the clinical progression in certain diseased conditions. We at AEpiA are excited to hear more about Lee’s wonderful work at Epigenetics2015 in Hobart next month.