Environmental Epigenetics

The Environmental Epigenetics Lab: John Lees, Carlos Guerrero Bosagna, Emmanouil Tsakoumis, Fabio Pertille, Violeta de Anca Prado, Farnaz Sourani (from left to right)

Aim of the lab

The general research interest within my group is to investigate how environmental exposures of a variety of sources (nutrition, contaminants, stress) interfere with developmental and epigenetic mechanisms, and can consequently be involved in phenotypic and epigenetic variation later in life. Additionally, we are interested in how environmental exposures can induce epigenetic modifications in the germ line, as well as the ability of these to be transmitted transgenerationally and influence genetic variability in subsequent generations. From the latter, a strong interest is also about the role of environmentally induced epigenetic mechanisms in evolutionary processes. We have also recently gotten involved with mitochondrial research, particularly the ability of mitochondrial function and epigenome to respond to environmental insults.  

Within this general ‘environmental epigenetics’ framework, we are actively investigating different model organisms: chickens, pigs, humans and mouse.

In chickens we investigate the ability of early stress to produce long-term epigenetic changes in peripheral cells and brain regions. We aim to identify epigenetic marks of welfare based on the collection of peripheral tissue, such as red blood cells, as well as to identify lifelong epigenetic dynamics in the brain in response to early stress. Also in chickens, we investigate the ability of early abiotic stress to produce long-term metabolic consequences.

In a mouse model in which transgenerational metabolic effects are triggered, we are investigating the dynamics of epigenetic and genetic changes generation after generation.

In a more applied venue, we are investigating epigenetic and genetic markers of susceptibility of head and neck cancer to treatment options, in order to advance towards personalized treatment.

Our research is only made possible by a network of incredible collaborators around the world, as well as by the generous support of our funders, both governmental agencies and foundations.

Do you want to learn more about epigenetics and our work?

Ongoing projects

Project title: GEroNIMO: Genome and Epigenome eNabled breedIng in MOnogastrics

Funding source: Horizon 2020 – European Commission

Short description: In order to meet the future challenges, animal breeding should evolve towards a more sustainable model, by guaranteeing animal production, while promoting simultaneously efficient use of resources, animal health and welfare, as well as preserving genetic diversity. The aim of the project is to provide novel insights into innovative genome- and epigenome-enabled selection methods for traits related to a sustainable optimization of production (in terms of both quantity and quality), efficiency, productive longevity, fertility, resilience and welfare in chicken and pig populations.

Project title: Non-genomic inheritance of environmentally-induced traits: deciphering epigenetically-driven genetic variation in mammals

Funding source: John Templeton Foundation

Short description: Recent scientific data suggest that environmentally induced phenotypic traits can persist for several consecutive generations, through germline epigenetic inheritance mechanisms, but in mammals this possibility is still not well understood. The aim of this project is to map epigenetic variations, including DNA methylation and non-coding RNAs, in germ cells and study whether they can result in transgenerational de novo mutations related to metabolic diseases (such as obesity), using isogenic mice exposed to nutritional challenges.

Project title: Epigenetic tools to identify stress and exposure to detrimental conditions in production animals

Funding source: Formas

In the farming industry, understanding the physiological stress responses of an animal is necessary for efficient husbandry and welfare. So far, animal welfare has been assessed only in specific time points, while assessment tools for the entire life-history of an animal are still lacking. The aim of the project is to link epigenetics and welfare research to develop advanced methods for assessing animal welfare in a life-history perspective and provide novel knowledge on the interplay between genetics, epigenetics and stress physiology in chickens and pigs.

Project title: Lifelong and intergenerational mitochondrial, physiological and epigenomic effects of early metabolic challenges

Funding source: Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

Short description: Mitochondria play a pivotal role in energy homeostasis and metabolic regulation. Increasing evidence shows that the mitochondrial DNA could be subjected to chemical modifications in response to environmental stressors, resulting in changes in gene expression. The aim of the project is to quantify in chickens epigenetic, physiological and morphological responses of mitochondria to early exposures during development, link them to whole organismal fitness traits and investigate their ability to induce epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.

Project title: Exploring the proximate factors affecting movement and location patterns and their relation to health and welfare in poultry

Funding source: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Short description: The behavioural patterns of each individual, as well as the relationships between individuals, are essential factors towards the improvement of animal welfare in poultry farming. The overall aim of the project is to gain a better understanding of the individuality of behavioural development and the relationships with others. Moreover, the project aims also to study whether the movement and location patterns of individual hens could be influenced by a combination of early-life influences and environmental exposures, using epigenetic tools.

Group members

Dr. Carlos Guerrero Bosagna, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer), Group leader

Dr. Fábio Pértille, Researcher

Dr. John Lees, Researcher

Dr. Emmanouil Tsakoumis, Research Engineer

MSc. Farnaz Sourani, PhD student

MSc. Violeta de Anca Prado, PhD student

Last modified: 2022-12-28