One of the most dramatic transitions in biology is the oocyte-to-zygote transition. This refers to the maturation of the female germ cell or oocyte, which undergoes two rounds of meiotic chromosome segregation and, following fertilization, is converted to a mitotically dividing embryo. We aim to establish an innovative research program that addresses fundamental questions about the molecular processes controlling the mammalian oocyte-to-zygote transition to ensure faithful inheritance of genomes from one generation to the next. We are taking an interdisciplinary approach combining germ cell and chromosome biology with cell cycle and epigenetic studies to understand how maternal factors regulate chromosome segregation in oocytes and chromatin organization in the zygote. A molecular understanding of key players regulating these processes is a requisite step for investigating how their deterioration contributes to maternal age-related aneuploidy and infertility. Aneuploidy is the leading cause of mental retardation and spontaneous miscarriage. The current trend towards advanced maternal age has increased the frequency of trisomic fetuses by 71% in the past ten years. A better understanding of mammalian meiosis is therefore relevant to human reproductive health.
A special feature of the female germ line is that meiotic DNA replication occurs in the embryo but oocytes remain arrested until the first meiotic division is triggered months (mouse) or decades (human) later. The longevity of oocytes poses a challenge for the cohesin complex that must hold together sister chromatids from DNA synthesis until chromosome segregation. We specifically aim to: 1) elucidate how sister chromatid cohesion is maintained in mammalian oocytes, 2) identify mechanisms regulating cohesion in young and aged oocytes, and 3) investigate how the inheritance of genetic and resetting of epigenetic information is coordinated with cell cycle progression at the oocyte-to-zygote transition.
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Funding SchemeERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant