On the sofa with Daphne...

What led you to come to HMGU? What attracted you to starting your lab at HMGU?

HMGU is an ideal location for my research. In fact, it has a strong background in metabolism and at the same time, with the recent opening of institutes like IFE and IES, it provides a great environment for epigenetic studies. Additionally, Munich is an attractive city with one of the strongest epigenetics community in Europe.

What is your scientific background?

I am a molecular biologist and since early on, I have been interested in understanding gene expression regulation at multiple levels. initially, I worked on noncoding RNAs and alternative splicing. During my PhD and postdoc, I became fascinated with epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation, including the spatial organization of the nucleus. These are the central drives of my current scientific interests.

What are the big questions you set out to answer with your research group?

From yeast to man, the spatial distribution of chromatin within the nucleus is not random, rather it enables a functional organization of the genome that helps to stabilize gene expression programs during development. Environmental stimuli can contribute and model our epigenome. What happens to chromatin 3D architecture when a tissue is exposed to environmental stress? How does this contribute to the regulation of gene expression? And what are the consequences of perturbing chromatin spatial organization for an organism exposed to environmental stress? My team aims at addressing these fundamental open questions focusing on nutrient stress.

What fascinates you about your research project? What excites you the most about the future of your research?

We know that epigenetic mechanisms generate and maintain chromatin “imprints” in otherwise genetically identical cells. To do so, most epigenetic enzymes use metabolite cofactors. Since we are all exposed to signals coming (or not coming) from nutrients, for example with feeding/fasting cycles but also with unbalanced diets, to me it is extremely fascinating to uncover the impact of nutrient stress on the organization of the nucleus, as this might help us to understand the contribution of epigenetic mechanisms in metabolically-altered conditions like obesity.

What are the main challenges of your research?

We will conduct our research using the roundworm C. elegans as a model organism. Certain molecular biology assays, especially if performed tissue- or even nuclear compartment-specific like we plan to do, can be challenging in this organism. Nonetheless, I am confident that the experience gained during my postdoc together with the support from HMGU facilities will allow us to address the challenges that may arise effectively.

What plans and visions do you have for your research group in the future?

I hope to become a good mentor and create a healthy lab environment for my team members, which will help us thrive as an internationally recognized team, with a solid reputation. Moreover, I wish that our innovative work with the worms will integrate optimally within HMGU, thus generating fruitful collaborations with other labs. In fact, I believe that this is the beauty of simple model organisms: revealing novel biological mechanisms that would be impractical to discover in higher species but that can change the way we look at very complex phenomena relevant for mammals and humans, too. 

How will the scientific world benefit from your research in this field?

The goal of my team is to uncover novel, perhaps unexpected, connections between nutrients and the epigenome. This study is interesting for basic research in epigenetics, but it has the potential to contribute to deciphering the complex epigenetic alterations behind metabolic disorders. 

What do you expect/ How do you wish to benefit from Epigenetics@HMGU community?

First of all, I am looking forward to fruitful scientific exchanges, discussions and to exciting collaborations! Also, starting a lab is very exciting, but I am aware that it’s not a simple task: there are many new skills that I will have to implement successfully. This is why I think that it is a fantastic opportunity to be part of the Epigenetics@HMGU community, where I can be inspired by the example of well-established and successful scientists to shape and lead my lab.