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The Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB) has teamed up with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HUB) to form an International Research Training Group (IRTG) on “Dissecting and Reengineering the Regulatory Genome.” This program received funding through the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and will run from January 2019 to June 2023.

Gene regulation is the key to developing the variety of cell types needed to form all living organisms, from single cell bacteria to fungus to animals and humans. However, there is still a lot researchers don’t know about the gene regulatory code. IRTG will take an integrative approach to unraveling the gene regulatory code, altering its activity, and developing sophisticated computational approaches to interpret the results and gain insight into the cellular regulatory process.

The international team will be comprised of experts in a variety of genomic disciplines and career stages from 11 research groups in four institutions in Berlin: HUBCharite Medical SchoolMax Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine and Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics. It also includes 11 research groups from several departments at Duke School of Medicine. The grant provides funding for 20 investigators (10 from Duke; 10 from Berlin), 11 Ph.D. students, one postdoc and five research assistants. Dr. Greg Wray, GCB Director, will lead and coordinate Duke’s efforts, and Dr. Uwe Ohler, former Duke University assistant professor and current professor at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, will lead and coordinate Germany’s efforts. “I’m excited that students and faculty at Duke will have the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most innovative research groups in Europe doing experimental and computational genomics,” Wray said.

Doctoral researchers enrolled in the program will spend one year at Duke, many in GCB labs. They will bring with them strengths from their training in Berlin, including epigenetic mapping and modeling, single cell genomics, and gene regulatory profiling. This, in conjunction with Duke’s strengths, including genome editing, high throughput reporter assays, and cutting-edge statistics, will propel research in gene regulation forward. IRTG will combine experimental and computational approaches to teach the next generation of researchers in a quantitative understanding of gene regulation and create future leaders in the field. The program will address three specific areas: high throughput genomics, computational biology, and developmental genetics.

High throughput genomics will focus on the development and application of high throughput assays to identify and profile regulatory activities of non-coding regions and of methods to perturb sequence and chromatin state. Computational biology will expose students to a broad spectrum of computational techniques and how they are applied to experimental data to study gene regulation. Developmental genetics will provide opportunities to apply methods from the other two projects in the context of gene regulation in developmental systems.

IRTG will not only open doors for students coming to Duke from Berlin, but it will also expose Duke students and faculty to a broader professional network and has the potential to create strong, international collaborations both now and in the future that will help pull our students and postdocs into the global conversation of genome science.

Originally published July 17, 2018

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