My PhD project investigates cross-generational effects of environmental stress in the zebrafish (D. rerio), an increasingly popular vertebrate model of health and disease.
During my MSc. in Toxicology at Lancaster University, I developed an interest in environmental epigenetics, i.e. the effect of our environment on gene expression, via chemical modifications to the chromatin landscape known as epigenetic factors. Not only do epigenetic factors provide an interface by which the environment can program our development in an adaptive sense, but they can also influence subsequent generations, via the germ line. In particular, a family of noncoding RNAs known as microRNAs (miRNAs), conveyed in sperm, have been implicated in the transmission of altered phenotypes in mammals in response to paternal stress. However, whether similar mechanisms occur in fish remains unknown.
Having uncovered evidence that paternal stress influences behavioural and physiological traits of D. rerio offspring, my work at SIME aims to characterise, using microarray technology, miRNAs in D. reriosperm as a function of environmental stress. It is hoped that the work will provide further mechanistic insights into these bizarre cross-generational effects, which continue to add exciting new dimensions to our understanding of inheritance.