Wolk Reik

ENABLE talk: Epigenetics programming in development and ageing

Professor Wolf Reik obtained his MD from the University of Hamburg. He did his thesis work with Rudolf Jaenisch, and postdoctoral work with Azim Surani in Cambridge. He became a Fellow of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine at Cambridge University and subsequently the Head of the Epigenetics Programme at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge where he is now Associate Director. He is honorary Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Cambridge and Associate Faculty at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, where he is a founding member of the recently established Centre for Single Cell Genomics. He is a Member of EMBO, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Fellow of the Royal Society, Member of the Academia European, and a Thompson Reuter highly cited researcher.

Wolf Reik discovered some of the key epigenetic mechanisms important for mammalian development, physiology, genome reprogramming, and human diseases. His early work led to the discovery that the molecular mechanism of genomic imprinting is based on DNA methylation. He uncovered non-coding RNA and chromatin looping regulating imprinted genes, which he showed to be involved in fetal nutrition, growth, and disease. His contributions helped define the notion of epigenetic reprogramming, including active demethylation, and showed that it was faulty in reproductive cloning affecting pluripotency of embryonic stem cells.  He found that the environment influences epigenetic programming in embryos, with changes in gene expression persisting in adults and their offspring.

His current work addresses the mechanisms of genome-wide demethylation in the mammalian germline, links between reprogramming and pluripotency, the potential for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, and the role of epigenetic mechanisms in experimental reprogramming. His lab has also initiated work on epigenetic regulation of social behaviours in insects, where they are interested in how patterning and regulation of DNA methylation in the brain is linked to the evolution of sociality.