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Centre for Trophoblast Research


Supervised by: Dr Courtney Hanna ( and Prof Anne Ferguson-Smith (

Project Title: The impact of DNA methylation on gene regulation in placental development

Host Department: Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

Project description

DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that exerts its function through the recruitment of epigenetic repressors or interfering with transcription factor binding to silence gene expression. DNA methylation is dramatically reprogrammed during early development in both the embryonic and extra-embryonic lineages. During this reprogramming event, the placental genome only becomes about half as methylated as most other cell types, a feature that is maintained throughout pregnancy and is conserved across mammalian species. Despite this atypical patterning, using transgenic mouse models, we have recently demonstrated that DNA methylation is essential for placental development and function. Yet, it remains unknown which genomic loci are responsive to DNA methylation in the placenta and what changes in gene expression underpin the developmental phenotypes.

To address these questions, this PhD project will use multi-omics techniques to identify regulatory elements that become de-repressed upon loss of DNA methylation in placental cells. Using CRISPR epigenetic editting techniques, the impact of region-specific changes in DNA methylation on gene regulation and trophoblast differentiation can then be functionally tested in cultured trophoblast stem cells


  1. Andrews et al. 2023 Mechanisms and function of de novo DNA methylation in placental development reveals an essential role for DNMT3B. PMID: 36690623
  2. Policarpi et al. 2021 Epigenetic editing: Dissecting chromatin function in context. PMID: 33724509