The long-term goal of research in the Cerutti Lab is to understand the molecular basis of epigenetic gene silencing in eukaryotes. Gene activity is influenced by the proteins that package the DNA, by enzymes that modify these proteins or the DNA itself, and by RNA-mediated mechanisms (e.g., RNA interference). All these pathways play important roles in the control of gene expression during organismal development and under different environmental conditions, as well as in host defense responses against viruses and transposable elements. A combination of cell biology, genetics and genomics approaches is being used to gain insights into mechanisms of transcriptional gene silencing by histone posttranslational modifications and of small RNA-mediated (e.g., microRNAs) regulatory control.
Researchers also are interested in algal biotechnology. Microalgae are unicellular organisms capable of harnessing sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce high-value chemical compounds, such as lipids and carbohydrates, which can be converted into biofuels or other bioproducts. The objective is to characterize the metabolic and regulatory networks that control the synthesis of storage compounds in green microalgae, which is generally triggered by stress conditions such as nitrogen deficiency. Advances in the basic understanding of microalgal biology will enable strain optimization for biofuel/biomaterial production though hypothesis-driven genetic engineering and genome editing strategies.