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We are interested in the molecular logic of totipotency—the ability of germ line stem cells and early embryos to become any type of cell. Within this broad and important question, we focus on how chromatin structure and epigenetics helps regulate gene transcription in the germ line and early embryos. We also examine how chromatin/epigenetics is misregulated in cancers.

How Do We Address These Problems?

We identify transcription factors, chromatin remodelers, and epigenetic modifiers that drive totipotency and explore how they are used in germ cells to poise the genome for development and in embryos to guide developmental processes. 

Furthermore, we are interested in how mutations in these factors lead to cancers. To address these problems, we use:

  • genetic,
  • biochemical,
  • and genomic methods,
  • and use yeast, zebrafish, and human cells as experimental systems.

How This Research Helps You

The Cairns lab studies how cancer develops in mice and zebrafish. Even though we study animal cells, this gives us a glimpse at how cancer develops in humans.