Boone, Brandon

Mentor: Dr. Steve Jacobsen

Research project:

Cytosine DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification needed to maintain proper gene regulation. Establishment of DNA methylation has been studied in a range of species, from mammalian organisms to the plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Less is known, however, about proteins that recognize and interpret DNA methylation, including methyl CpG binding domain (MBD) proteins that mediate DNA methylation-dependent gene regulation in A. thaliana. Recent studies suggest that MBD proteins bind to chromatin, leading to interactions with chromatin modifying complexes at methylated cytosines. Current functional models of MBD proteins do not propose mechanisms for how MBD proteins facilitate heterotypic interactions upon binding DNA, nor do they explain detailed biochemical mechanisms for regulation of gene expression.

My research focuses on how methyl binding proteins can facilitate control of gene expression through a relatively novel mechanism of liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS). Methyl binding proteins could provide a protein scaffold where LLPS membraneless compartments form, leading to silencing of gene expression and the formation of heterochromatin. Human methyl binding proteins have been shown to form LLPS condensates, but A. thaliana methyl binding proteins have yet to be tested. I will utilize both in vitro and in vivo techniques in detailed biochemical analyses to determine how A. thaliana methyl binding proteins utilize methylated DNA to form LLPS condensates that influence gene regulation.