Genome sequencing of our closest primate relatives such as the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla found ~4% of the human genome to be unique. Much of this human-specific sequence is dynamically transcribed, highly enriched in the brain and derived from non-coding, repeat-containing sequences, such as transposable Alu elements and subtelomeric regions; and proposed to have significantly impacted recent human, and especially brain, evolution.
However, the functions of human-specific transcripts in the brain are poorly understood, due to:
- a suitable human model of functional and modifiable neural cells
- their difficult-to-analyse inherent repeatability.
Our lab circumvents these problems by using cutting edge technologies in both research and bioinformatics:
This project will exploit induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology that has recently revolutionised the field of human neuroscience, as a large range of human neural cells can be derived from iPSCs. IPSCs allow effective exploration of human neural mechanisms utilising non-cell line, functional, reproducible and modifiable neural cells. Human-specific transcripts involved in neural activity, uncovered through bioinformatic analyses, will be targeted for molecular manipulation in iPSCs and resulting cellular consequences will shed light on the signalling pathways intricately linked to the evolution of human brain function.
Next generation sequencing (NGS) enables a genome-wide, unbiased view of the entire transcriptome. Cutting-edge bioinformatic analysis, including new approaches for circumventing repeat-mapping problems, will enable a comprehensive view of the dynamic transcriptome.
In both wet lab and bioinformatic projects we will also include disease-associated models such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and epilepsy, while also exploring changes during human aging and linking these conditions to newly evolved human brain functions.
- This project can be modified to suit Honours, PhD or Clinical students.
- Suitable for both wet lab or bioinformatics projects.