Zoe Li, 2012, Molecular Biology

Plasmodium falciparum causes malaria in over 300 million people each year yet little is understood about the parasiteís transcriptional regulation. In the parasiteís asexual stage, the parasite undergoes a 48-hour cycle of red blood cell (RBC) invasion, which causes the clinical symptoms of malaria. Only a handful of transcription factors have been identified in P. falciparum so epigenetic factors may play a significant role in transcriptional regulation.  Chromatin modification, predominantly via methylation or acetylation marks, is one form of epigenetic mark and has been shown to be involved in transcriptional regulation in many organisms. The marks are classically found on nucleosomes, which are comprised of DNA and histones, the proteins around which DNA are bound.  As an example, certain histone post-translational modifications (PTMs) such as lysine trimethylations and acetylations have been found to be strongly associated with silent or active genes. Through a mass spectrometry-based approach, we have identified a novel histone PTM, H3H39me1.

My work centers on using chromatin immunoprecipitation against this modified histone and the DNA that it binds to allow us to map where this modification occurs genome-wide.  Ultimately, the goal is to correlate the presence of this mark with active or silent genes, thus further establishing a correlation between chromatin state and gene expression in P. falciparum.