Department of Biology & Biochemistry


Royal Society University Research Fellow

4 South 1.49


Tel: +44 (0)1225 383128


Dr Hans-Wilhelm N├╝tzmann


My research programme aims to understand how genes are ordered along chromosomes and how gene order affects gene regulation.

Advances in genomics and transcriptomics have unveiled that gene order in eukaryotes influences expression patterns, recombination and mutation rates and gene retention over evolutionary time. In addition, diverse examples of clusters for co-localised and co-regulated functionally related genes have been identified in eukaryotes. Such gene clusters are predominately associated with fundamental developmental processes, immunity and metabolism. In plants, metabolic gene clusters are constituted by adjacent non-sequence related genes that encode the different catalytic steps required for the synthesis of bioactive specialised metabolites. Specialised metabolites, also called secondary metabolites or natural products, are low-molecular weight molecules that provide plants with the ability to interact with their environment. Furthermore, they provide taste and aroma to food, create color effects, have extensive applications in industry and agriculture and are the source of many important pharmaceuticals.

Plant metabolic gene clusters, and eukaryotic clusters in general, are characterised by the co-ordinated and tightly regulated expression of the encoded genes. The co-localisation of functionally-related genes enables the formation of different mechanisms of gene regulation in comparison to the control of dispersed genes. These mechanisms are at the heart of my research. I aim to characterise and understand the key mechanism in the regulation of plant metabolic gene clusters with the following central hypothesis: Plant metabolic gene clusters are delineated by a conserved code of epigenetic marks and reside in dynamic three-dimensional chromosomal domains. These chromatin features mediate the co-ordinate and highly restrictive pattern of cluster transcription, establish a basis for epigenetic cluster regulation and, therefore, shape the plant’s metabolite response during different developmental stages and changing ecological conditions.

My research will provide fundamental new insights into the genetic control of plant specialised metabolism, unveil novel avenues to rationally interfere with pathway regulation, contribute to a better understanding of the principles of gene-order dependent regulation of eukaryotic genes, ameliorate the design principles of synthetic multi-gene cassettes, and will thus, ultimately, underpin human interest in food security, higher-value natural products and synthetic biology.


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