Enhancers are cis-regulatory elements that spatiotemporally modulate gene expression. Despite their critical role in organism phenotype, our understanding of how enhancers activity is encoded in the genome is incomplete. Unlike protein-coding genes, the evolutionary conservation of enhancers appears the exception rather than the rule, even between mammals. A comprehensive mechanistic knowledge of the sequences required for context-specific enhancer activity is unknown for most, if not all, cell states and cell types. I will discuss current breakthroughs in understanding the complex relationship between enhancer sequences and their function and on our current work using high-throughput molecular methods and machine learning to understand the sequence basis of cell-type specific enhancer activity.
Emily Wong was awarded her PhD in genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Sydney and joined the European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK, as an EMBO postdoctoral fellow. There, she worked on the evolution of gene expression processes in mammals. She then joined the University of Queensland as an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career fellow. She is currently Faculty and Head of the Regulatory Systems Lab at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and A/Prof with the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW. Emily is currently a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator and an incoming Snow Fellow, where her team combines model organism research, multi-omics, machine learning and high-throughput molecular strategies to understand fundamental processes in gene regulation focusing on cis-regulatory elements. Her discoveries include the first example of an enhancer, an important type of regulatory element in the genome, conserved across 700 million years of animal evolution, from the sea sponge to mammals.