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KEEP hosts Dr. Christian Frøkjær-Jensen


Multicellular organisms rely on exquisite regulation of gene expression to create a diversity of cells from a single genome sequence. To perform this function, cells face several challenges: controlling the appropriate level of host genes under changing environmental conditions and silencing expression of foreign genes, such as transposable elements. I will describe a novel mechanism used by the genetic model organisms C. elegans to solve these related challenges. We find that approximately 10% of the genome is comprised of a non-coding DNA “watermark”. Using biological engineering approaches, we demonstrate that endogenous and synthetic watermarks can prevent epigenetic silencing of genes in the germline mediated by small RNA pathways and heterochromatin. Thus, endogenous genes with the watermark are licensed for expression and foreign genes lacking a watermark are silenced by default.

Prof. Christian Frøkjær-Jensen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark but have spent a large part of his life living abroad in France, Brazil, and the US. He has  an undergraduate degree is in Physics/Biophysics from the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen. He did research towards his Master’s degree as a visiting scholar at UC San Diego and at University of Oregon in the fields of optogenetics and neurobiology. His PhD work was performed at University of Copenhagen studying the role of K+ channel localization and neuronal excitability. He did his postdoctoral work in Erik Jorgensen’s laboratory at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Utah), where he developed several methods for genome editing in C. elegans. The last two years he has been a visiting scientist in Andrew Fire’s laboratory at Stanford, studying the role of non-coding DNA and epigenetic silencing mechanisms in C. elegans.