Distinct from the DNA letters that make up our genome, the epigenome refers to a system that controls which parts of our genome can be read. Wolf’s epigenetic research is uncovering how cells develop into the different cell types of our bodies in early embryonic development and, in the reverse process, how the memory of cell identity can be erased and cells reprogrammed back into unspecialised stem cells.
Speaking about the award, Wolf commented: “Embryo development is a remarkable process. Following fertilisation of the egg by the sperm, the embryo must grow from a single cell capable of becoming any part of the body into ordered tissues each with their own identity. This requires tight regulation but we only have a limited understanding of how this operates. By understanding the mechanism of gene regulation during development, we will know more about what is required for the healthy development of embryos, and this knowledge will also have important impacts in regenerative medicine.”
The Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards support research vital to understanding health and disease. In addition to being supported by the wider expertise in epigenetics, innovative research methods and state-of-the-art research technology residing within the Institute, the epigenetics research funded by this award will benefit from extensive collaborations with colleagues at the University of Cambridge, the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
After qualifying as a medic in 1985, Wolf began his research career in the nascent field of epigenetics. After two years of postdoctoral research, Wolf received a Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine fellowship to start his own research group in 1987 at what was then the Institute of Animal Physiology, now the Babraham Institute. Wolf was elected to the Royal Society in 2010 and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2003. He holds several other awards including EMBO membership.
Institute Director, Professor Michael Wakelam, said: “I’m delighted to congratulate Wolf on his latest success. His contribution to the field of epigenetics cannot be overestimated and his research continues to have global influence. This Wellcome Trust award supports the pioneering nature of Wolf’s work and will enhance our world-leading epigenetics research.”
The Babraham Institute undertakes fundamental life science research to support lifelong health. A baby girl born in 1841 could expect to live just beyond her 42nd birthday; one born in 2016 can expect to live until the age of 83. But it’s not enough to live longer; we need to live healthier for longer, a concept called healthspan as opposed to lifespan. Our research particularly focuses on the epigenetic control of gene regulation, cell signalling and how cells behave, and how our immune system functions. Each of these core areas show age-related changes and by understanding these our aim is to make discoveries that extend healthspan, allowing a better longer life.
Learn more about Wolf’s research:
Wolf's research pages
2017 research summary
Hear Wolf explain his research at a Karolinska Research Lecture at the Nobel Forum (from 2014)
Read a profile of Wolf’s career by The Scientist: Leaving an Imprint