In this episode of the Epigenetics Podcast, we caught up with Dr. Chuan He, John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor at University of Chicago, to talk about his work on the influence of dynamic RNA methylation on gene expression. RNA methylation is an important biological process, and cellular RNA methylation levels can have profound impacts on normal cellular differentiation and cancer cell proliferation.

Dr. He received his Ph.D. from MIT in 2000 and went on to do his postdoctoral work at Harvard University. He then became Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago in 2002, was promoted to Associate Professor in 2008, and in 2014 he became the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago.  From 2012 to 2017 he was Director of the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics at the University of Chicago.

Chuan He's current research focuses on understanding the reversible RNA modification m6A. This modification was discovered in the 1980s, but work from Dr. He's laboratory showing that m6A was indeed a transient epigenetic modification by the discovery of the first m6A demethylase FTO in 2011 rekindled the interest in this modification. In the following years Dr. He and his team identified and characterized additional m6A enzymes, including the m6A eraser ALKBH5, the m6A readers YTH and HNRNP, and the m6A writer complex METTL3/14. 

METTL3/14 is a core complex in this regulatory network, and it requires an accessory factor WTAP, which mediates cellular m6A RNA methylation. The current work in the He lab focuses on how the methylation selectivity of this complex is achieved.

In this interview, we discuss the story of how the He lab discovered the members of the family of proteins that read, write, and erase RNA modifications and how those RNA modifications act in the field of epigenetics.

 

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