Do genes have memory?


This project will develop models for epigenetic processes implicated in the inheritance of traits associated with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


Professor Stephen Simpson, Professor Max Bennett, Professor Ian Caterson, Associate Professor Michael Charleston, Associate Professor Timothy Gill

Research Location

Charles Perkins Centre – the Judith and David Coffey Life Lab

Program Type



Every cell in an organism has the same DNA, however, as cells proliferate in early development, or during growth, some cells begin to behave differently as a result of exposure to different environments or stimuli. These changes can become irreversible even after the environment changes or the stimulus is removed. There is growing evidence that although these behavioural changes cannot be explained in terms of changes in the DNA sequence of the cells, they can be inherited as cells divide, and in some cases can be inherited when the organism reproduces. Thus offspring can inherit behaviours from their parents that arose as a consequence of environments that they themselves have never experienced. The consequences of such epigenetic regulation of behaviour are profound as it opens up the possibility that cells such as cancer cells, or organisms such as crop plants, can be pre-conditioned to behave in desirable ways by exposing them or their parents to prescribed stimuli. The role of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in important environmentally-related diseases such as obesity and cardio-vascular disease has relatively recently come to light and has fundamentally important implications for our understanding of predisposition to disease and the crucial role of both paternal and maternal nutrition in pre- and post-conception periods. It also changes the way we think about evolution and natural selection. This project will aim to elucidate the mechanisms underlying epigenetic processes by studying the phenomenon in different but complementary systems and building computational models for the related interaction networks.

Additional Information

The Life Lab creates a new kind of graduate and postgraduate training environment at the interface between life, social, economic and physical sciences. Its focus is to address the significant challenges we face from an unsustainable food system that degrades the environmental services it depends on, and creates significant societal health problems. A better understanding of the complexity of the environment-food-health nexus is critical. It is fundamental to building a sustainable society, and one that is more robust to future uncertainties. Our unique approach will be a world-first in shifting research on these growing challenges from treating symptoms to prevention.Life Lab will challenge existing paradigms and university models to create a research training environment in which traditional disciplinary boundaries do not apply. Our ambitious vision is to create an ‘innovation hub' where researchers from disciplines spanning physical, life and social and economic sciences will interface with business, government and agency leaders. It will develop integrated approaches to the challenges that threaten societal wellbeing, and train the next generation of experts with the skills required to find solutions.

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epigenetics, modeling, Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, public health

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1693

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