Genes can be influenced by the environment, which means our lifestyle can impact the expression of our genes. Epigenetics is the field that studies the relationship between our environment and our genes.
“Epigenetics is a very important component for studying human health,” says Dr. Kobor. “There is increasing evidence that epigenetic modifications are altered in a variety of diseases, such as cancer, and neurodegenerative disease.”
The Kobor laboratory focuses on the environmental and biological factors that affect genome function and gene expression, with a particular focus on how DNA is packaged.
“There are two meters of DNA that need to fit inside a little cell, so it must be packaged very tightly,” explains Dr. Kobor.
Many different environmental factors affect the molecular machinery of the DNA packaging process. The Kobor lab is involved in collaborations looking at this relationship in fetal alcohol syndrome, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The laboratory is also working with psychologists and population health scientists to study the effects of socio-economic status on gene expression.
“This is a wonderful field,” says Dr. Kobor. “Not only do you do basic science, but you can also branch out and build truly interdisciplinary collaborations.”