A large part of our genome is made up of potentially mobile pieces called transposons, also known as ‘jumping genes’ for their ability to change their position. While humans largely share the same genes in our DNA, the combination of transposons are unique for each person. Recent evidence uncovered in 2020 by Dr Christoph Treiber and Professor Scott Waddell in the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (CNCB) suggests that transposons are particularly active in the brain. This has given rise to a new hypothesis that transposons might change brain functions and contribute to the diversity of behaviours across individuals within a population.
Dr Christoph Treiber of the Waddell group has now been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to begin an independent line of research to interrogate this hypothesis over the next five years. The award of more than £1.25 million will “help us understand whether our unique transposon fingerprint contributes to who we are. Transposons could be a key component of our personality.” (Dr Christoph Treiber).
With this new award, Dr Treiber will combine two novel and ground-breaking techniques to test the hypothesis in the fruit fly brain, a well-established model for studying how genes alter behaviours. The first, single-cell transcriptomics, has been pioneered by Dr Treiber and Dr Vincent Croset in the Waddell Group at the CNCB. The second, PacBio® single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing generates full length cDNA sequences from cells and tissues.