Julie Ahringer

Senior group leader

Research summary

Developmental regulation of chromatin structure and function

Animal development is a remarkable process during which a single-celled totipotent zygote produces a myriad of different cell types. A driving force is the differential control of chromatin activity, which establishes gene expression programmes that drive cellular identity. Deciphering this control is necessary for understanding how the genome directs development and the diseases that result from chromatin dysregulation.

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We study how cell-type specific gene expression and chromatin organisation are achieved using the simple C. elegans model, focusing on controls and interactions at regulatory elements, the formation and function of euchromatin and heterochromatin, and the regulation of 3D nuclear organisation.

Taking advantage of the experimental amenability and defined lineage of C. elegans, we apply genetics, phenotypic analyses, high-throughput genomics, super-resolution microscopy, single-cell analyses, and computational approaches to understand core mechanisms of gene expression regulation in development.

Super-resolution microscopy of heterochromatin in C elegans Ahringer lab

Heterochromatin in early development in C. elegans: Embryonic nuclei imaged using STED super-resolution microscopy reveals that H3K9me2 is found in distinct foci.


Plot of single-nucleus joint profiling of gene expression and chromatin accessibility

Single-nucleus joint profiling of gene expression and chromatin accessibility in early embryogenesis reveals mother-to-daughter-cell genome regulation at the start of development.

Julie Ahringer colour portrait

Selected publications

  • Gal C et al. (2021) DREAM represses distinct targets by cooperating with different THAP domain proteins. Cell Reports 37(3): 109835. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109835.

    October 19, 2021

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  • Serizay J et al. (2020) Distinctive regulatory architectures of germline-active and somatic genes in C. elegans. Genome Res 30: 1752-1765. DOI: 10.1101/gr.265934.120.

    October 22, 2020

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  • Jänes J et al. (2018) Chromatin accessibility dynamics across C. elegans development and ageing. eLife 7:e37344. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.37344.

    October 26, 2018

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  • McMurchy AN et al. (2017) A team of heterochromatin factors collaborates with small RNA pathways to combat repetitive elements and germline stress. eLife 6: e21666. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.21666.

    March 15, 2017

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  • Evans, KJ et al. (2016) Stable C. elegans chromatin domains separate broadly expressed and developmentally regulated genes. PNAS 113 (45): E7020–E7029. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1608162113.

    October 25, 2016

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Professor Julie Ahringer PhD FRS FMedSci
Senior Group Leader, Wellcome Investigator, Professor of Genetics and Genomics, Member of the University Department of Genetics

Julie’s group investigates the regulation of chromatin and gene expression in development using molecular genetic and high-throughput genomic approaches.

Her lab pioneered genome-wide RNAi screening, carrying out the first systematic inactivation of genes in any animal by creating the widely-used C. elegans RNAi feeding library, and her earlier work focused on understanding embryonic cell polarity.

Julie got her first degree in Chemistry from Lafayette College in 1984, then did her PhD with Judith Kimble at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She came to Cambridge in 1991 as a postdoc with John White at the MRC-LMB, started her lab in the Genetics Department in Cambridge with a Wellcome Career Development Award in 1996, then moved in 1998 to the Wellcome CRUK Gurdon Institute (formerly called the Wellcome/CRC Institute), where she has been ever since.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Academy of Medical Sciences, a member of EMBO, and received the Francis Crick lecture prize of the Royal Society.

Notable achievements and honours

  • 2021
    Fellow of the Royal Society
  • 2020
    George W. Beadle Award, Genetics Society of America
  • 2007
    Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences
  • 2006
    RNAi Innovator Award, Gene Expression Systems Ltd
  • 2004
    Frances Crick Lecture Prize, Royal Society
  • 2004
    Royal Institution Friday Evening Discourse
  • 2003
    Member of European Molecular Biology Organisation

Research group

  • Dr Alex Appert

    Research Associate

  • Szymon Berezicki

    MPhil Student

  • Dr Toby Buttress

    Research Associate

  • Dr Francesco Carelli

    Research Associate

  • Yan Dong

    Research Associate

  • Matthew Hill

    PhD Student/ Research Assistant

  • Aleksander Klimczyk

    MPhil Student

  • Dr Roopali Pradhan

    Research Associate

  • Anna Townley

    PhD Student

  • Dr Ser van der Burght

    Research Associate