Deciphering the Cell Code that perpetuates animal life
The information required to perpetuate animal life must be contained even within a single cell that begins each generation (e.g. fertilized egg in sexually reproducing animals). The DNA within this cell encodes what can be made but does not determine what is made. What is made depends on how the cell interprets the DNA sequence, and requires instructions and machinery in addition to the DNA. Thus, life 'begins' with two distinct forms of information: the linear DNA sequence that is faithfully replicated during cell divisions, and a three-dimensional arrangement of molecules that dictates what is made using DNA and changes during development but returns to a similar configuration at the start of each generation. These two interdependent stores of information – one replicating with every cell division and the other cycling with a period of one generation – coevolve and together can be thought of as forming a cell code for making an organism.
Understanding the cell code and how it is propagated during development such that it is recreated in a similar configuration at the start of each generation has implications for evolution, origins of inherited diseases, and consequences of genome engineering. Taking advantage of our recent ability to induce transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, i.e. modify non-genetic aspects of the cell code, our goal is to use reductionist, systems, and engineering approaches to understand the information required to build and perpetuate an animal.
For more, read Replicating and cycling stores of information perpetuate life and click on the research tab.