Today, Dylan Mooijman from the Van Oudenaarden group will defend his thesis entitled: “Methylation and demethylation dynamics in single cells”

In his PhD research, Mooijman has developed single cell methods to analyze different facets of gene regulation, such as transcription, DNA hydroxymethylation and DNA demethylation. These processes have been studied extensively using bulk measurements. However, no single cell is the same. Even in isogenic cell populations transcriptional and epigenetic heterogeneity exists. Analyzing cell averages disregards this variability. To increase the understanding of these processes it was critical Mooijman used methods that allowed him to detect such differences. By using single cell methods he was able to estimate kinetics of DNA methylation and he showed that DNA methylation can be highly variable.

New single cell technologies are being developed at a rapid pace. In his thesis Mooijman has developed methods to correlate single cell transcriptional variability with whole transcriptome analysis and single cell genomics methods to probe 5hmC and 5mC sites (methylation sites).

Single cell technologies

The development of single cell techniques allows one to ask otherwise inaccessible questions that were previously limited by sample quantity. This extends far beyond applications in developmental biology. Cancer biopsies can now be analyzed for prognostic markers in a much more robust manner using single cell technologies. Also, the requirement for less input material also means fewer lab animals are needed for a given experiment (experiments that required multiple mice to collect enough material can now be replaced with a single experimental animal). Finally, single cell technologies could also be the driving force behind novel breakthroughs in the fields of pharmaceutics and diagnostic medicine.