Associate Professor of Biology
Member, Whitehead Institute
Mary Gehring graduated from Williams College with a degree in Biology. She received her PhD in Plant Biology from the University of California Berkeley in 2005. Mary then performed postdoctoral research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She started her lab at the Whitehead Institute and MIT in 2010. Mary was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences and was the recipient of the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award.
PhotoCredit: Jared Leeds
Understanding the extent of information transmission from one generation to the next is a fundamental biological question. The mechanisms and importance of genetic information transmission have been elucidated over the past 100 years. The existence, extent, and consequences of other types of non-genetic inherited information are comparatively little understood, as is the evolutionary impact, if any, of such information transfer. Potential forms of non-genetic inherited information, often referred to as epigenetic, include patterns of modifications to DNA and chromatin, RNA molecules, and proteins with alternative, self-perpetuating structures. The goal of my research program is to dissect how dynamic changes to the epigenome impact genome function and plant growth and development. To this end, my lab is focused on understanding 1) how DNA methylation stability is maintained on cellular and generational timescales and 2) the nature of epigenetic reprogramming and genetic conflicts during reproduction. Specifically, we are addressing the dynamics of DNA methylation and demethylation at the cellular scale, investigating whether faithful epigenetic inheritance is dependent on particular cell types or passage through meiosis, identifying the mechanisms of imprinting and function of imprinted genes in seeds, determining how seed small RNAs regulate both imprinted expression and global genome dosage, and investigating how transposable elements expressed as a result of epigenomic reprogramming in seeds interact with and impact the host. Our primary research organism, with its unmatched tools, resources, and tractability, is the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, but we frequently incorporate other plant species when it best suits our research questions. My laboratory utilizes genetic, genomic, computational, molecular, and comparative evolutionary approaches to pursue our goals. The discoveries and concepts derived from our research are broadly relevant to the study of epigenetic dynamics and inheritance in other complex eukaryotes.