Zhijun Duan, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
The focus of our research is on the relationship between the form and function of human genomes during development and tumorigenesis. One of the striking features of the eukaryotic nucleus is that chromosomes adopt preferred conformations that vary across different tissues and developmental stages. Meanwhile, more than 10 years after its initial description, only a small fraction of the human genome is functionally annotated. For the vast majority of the human genome, the specific function of the most of the DNA is still unknown. During the past few years, systematic approaches for the global identification of various functional elements in the human genome have been developed. However, determining the in vivo activities of these elements remains a major challenge. Since the in vivo function of these elements is not confined to linearly adjacent sequences, characterizing both the local and global chromosome structure will be crucial to understanding the underlying regulatory mechanisms. Our current goal is to develop routinely affordable high throughput tools for globally characterizing chromatin interactions in mammalian cells and to adapt these tools for characterizing structural relationships among functional elements in human pluripotent stem cells. Through integrative genomic analysis, we aim to model the cis-regulatory networks in these cells and to reveal the roles of such networks in self-renewal and differentiation.