• Project Title: Enhancers Driving Facial and Limb Morphological Differences Between Human and Chimps

  • BASIS Advisor: Dr. Murthy

  • Internship Location: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  • Onsite Mentor: Dr. Evgeny Kvon

With almost a 98% similarity in human and chimpanzee DNA, what accounts for the substantial organismal differences found between the two? Part of the answer lies in segments of short, non-coding regulatory sequences known as enhancers. These short sequences are scattered across the entire genome, and can upregulate the expression of a certain gene by recruiting specific transcription factors at certain stages of development. At the Mammalian Functional Genomics Lab, our team plans on evaluating the role of humans versus chimp enhancer function during limb and facial development; we will use mice as a model for comparative phenotyping. This project will utilize a genomic editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9, an enzymatic complex that can target specific sequences to “snip” out. By using CRISPR/Cas9 to cut out the original mouse enhancer and replacing it with either the human or chimp enhancer, we can then study the resulting embryos to find differences in facial and limb development. Even small resulting changes in the gene expression could lead to significant elongation of the limbs or other areas of development. Understanding the role of non-coding regulatory DNA sequences and enhancer function is crucial in explaining why humans have developed into what we are today. My project will also include a claymation video that explains the function and importance of enhancers.