Steve Eichten

Research background

My research background is examining epigenomic variation across and within plant species. Specifically, identifying how DNA methylation acts as a cause, or consequence, of molecular regulation of gene expression. For my PhD I examined this within inbred species of Zea mays and have transitioned into natural populations of the model cereal Brachypodium distachyon since joining the ANU.

Current research interests

My current interest is in assaying novel transposable element variation across plant populations. Recent work has shown that there is abundant variation of these mobile genomic elements within a species. As novel insertions or deletions may directly impact genes or regulatory regions through chromatinbased regulation, I hope to discover how often these variants, and overall genome stability, may be related to phenotypic variation we see in the field.

What do you see as challenges for your field of research?

Epigenomics takes all of the challenges of genomic-scale analyses (increased sample numbers, complex computational workflows, multiple testing concerns, etc) and adds in a new layer of possible signal instability. As chromatin modifications are more malleable than genetic variants, they have high expectations as novel genomic regulators which are heritable, yet reversible. This leads to more complex experimental designs that require one to directly assess the stability of your measurement (e.g. DNA methylation state) across multiple samples and, in some cases, multiple generations. Even when accounting for this, there is still the ever-present challenge of taking millions of (epi)genomic, and phenotypic, measurements and distilling them into biological meaning.