Specialties: germline epigenetics, environmental reproductive toxicology
My main research interest is to understand how environmental factors (e.g. exposure to toxicants, dietary conditions, oxidative stressors, etc.) can change the germ-line epigenome, and thus indirectly gene regulation in offspring, and influence their health and disease.
The epigenome comprises additional levels of structural and biochemical information superimposed to the primary DNA sequence information, such as nuclear architecture and genome organization, DNA methylation, posttranslational modification the chromatin associated proteins, e.g. histones, and small RNAs. Epigenetic control appears to be for the development of complex and often late-onset diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and autism.
My lab is particularly interested in exposures that occur during the prenatal phase of germ cell development. In other words, we focus on this central question: How does exposure of a pregnant mother to adverse environmental factors influence the germ-line epigenome of the developing offspring?
A thorough understanding of the relevant mechanisms will help us to develop adequate lifestyle choices and pharmacological interventions that can improve human and animal health, which is our long-term goal.
Undergraduate and graduate student opportunities in the lab are currently available – please contact me by email: Mirella.Meyer@usu.edu. Take a look at the opening here.
Research projects in my lab address individual facets of this central question:
One of the potential candidate mechanisms my lab currentlyfocuses on is poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation (PARsylation). PARsylation is a biochemical pathway that is central to DNA repair and chromatin remodeling processes in all mammalian cells. It can change DNA integrity and the epigenetic make up of DNA, e.g. nuclear architecture, chromatin composition and DNA methylation patterns. Its level of activity largely depends on exogenous factors, such as the availability of certain nutrients (niacin), and cellular exposure to oxidative stressors or other environmental toxicants.
My prior research focused on the role of PARsylation during the continually ongoing germ cell differentiation (spermatogenesis) that occurs in adult males. Those studies demonstrated in genetic and pharmacological rodent models that proper PARsylation is required for normal sperm chromatin composition and nuclear organization, two important layes of the epigenetic information contained within each sperm.
My research has been supported by funds from The Found Animals Foundation, start-up funding from the Utah State University and by a Research Catalyst grant from the Utah State University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
Between 1992 and 1997, I studied Biology and Chemistry at the University of Kaiserslautern (TU Kaiserslautern), Germany, and 1997 received the German Diploma in Biology (equivalent to M.S., with major focus on Genetics, Human Genetics and Organic Chemistry). For graduate training and doctoral research I moved to the Eberhard-Karls-University of Tübingen and the University Hospital of Tübingen, Germany, where I focused on Virology and Human Genetics, and received my Ph.D. degree (Dr.rer.nat., Doctorate in Natural Sciences) in 2002.
In 2002, I joined the University of Arizona (Arizona Cancer Center and College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology) as post-doctoral research associate and received further training in Cancer Biology and Toxicology. Between 2005 and 2013, I worked as a Senior Research Investigator at the University of Pennsylvania, conducting research in the fields of Male Reproductive Biology and Toxicology. In 2013, I joined Utah State University as Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine, where I teach Veterinary Toxicology.