April 2022 Spotlight
Dr. Andy (Andrzej) Kudlicki
I am a computational biologist, interested in various aspects of transcriptional and epigenetic regulation in disease and development. I joined UTMB in 2009, after a postdoc in UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX. My effort is divided between original research at BMB and collaborative projects conducted within the Informatics Service Center at the Institute for Translational Sciences.
The long-term goal of my research is to understand how and why transcription factor binding sites are selected and how chromatin modifications are directed to specific sites, depending on the time, cell type and environmental factors. In human and other vertebrates, the numbers of metameric segments in each region of the spine, as well as the total number of vertebrae are highly conserved, for example almost all mammals have exactly seven cervical vertebrae. The identity of body segments depends on the Hox transcription factors, that are in turn controlled by chromatin modifications, but it has been unknown how chromatin state is regulated in a robust, segment-specific manner.
I have discovered a regulatory element (HRC3 motif) that is responsible for recruiting histone demethylases to the correct loci, and I have proposed a mechanism that allows cells to obtain and store the segmental information in digital form, and to produce a pattern of chromatin accessibility that in turn regulates Hox gene expression. The finding explains how counting of segments is performed by the developing embryo, and how the numbers are encoded in the genome. My model of segmental identity allows correctly predicting the numbers of segments in a vertebrate using only sequence information; it also resolves the 40-year-old enigma of the function of temporal and spatial collinearity of Hox genes.
Currently, I am working on expanding the model of segmental identity into a more complete theory that explains multiple aspects of evolutionary developmental biology. I am exploring a connection between this process and certain diseases, including Huntington's Disease, and autosomal dominant Spinocerebellar ataxias. Before I became a computational biologist, I used to do research in astrophysics, working on motions of clusters of galaxies and estimating the total mass of the Universe. When I am not in the lab, you might find me windsurfing on Galveston Bay, taking night-time photographs, or playing at a local bridge tournament. (Twitter @aanzelm)