Decoding the Epigenetic Language of Life

By Jian-Kang Zhu

Plant Biology​, Department of Horticulture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

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Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable information that is not contained in DNA sequence. An important epigenetic mark conserved in mammals and plants is DNA methylation, a chemical modification of DNA that controls gene function. Proper DNA methylation patterns are critical for development, diseases and stress responses in humans as well as in plants. Plants are excellent biological systems to study how DNA methylation patterns are generated. DNA methyltransferase enzymes that deposit the DNA methylation mark are guided to specific DNA sequences, and DNA demethylase enzymes that remove the DNA methylation mark are also guided to distinctive sequences to erase unwanted DNA methylation. I will describe work in my lab that has shed light on how DNA methyltransferases and demethylases are guided to specific sequences, and how the antagonistic actions of the enzymes are coordinated to generate proper DNA methylation patterns. I will also describe some of our recent work on how DNA methylation influences transgenerational inheritance.


Jian Kang Zhu Jian Kang Zhu is a Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology, Departments of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Biochemistry at Purdue University, and Director of the Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He earned his bachelor's degree in soils and agricultural chemistry from Beijing Agricultural University; his master's degree in botany from the University of California, Riverside, and his doctorate in plant physiology from Purdue. Previously he was at the University of California, Riverside, where he was the Jane Johnson Chair Professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. Prior to UC Riverside, he spent eight years as a faculty member at the University of Arizona, Tucson. His research has sought to elucidate the signaling pathways in plants that govern their responses to environmental stresses such as drought, soil salinity and freezing temperatures. He is also interested in epigenetics, particularly how the DNA methylation mark is deposited and removed.

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  • Jian-Kang Zhu (2016), "Decoding the Epigenetic Language of Life,"

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