CRISPR/Cas genome engineering unleashed a scientific revolution, but entails socio-ethical dilemmas as genetic changes might affect evolution and objections exist against genetically modified organisms. CRISPR-mediated epigenetic editing offers an alternative to reprogram gene functioning long-term, without changing the genetic sequence. Although preclinical studies indicate effective gene expression modulation, long-term effects are unpredictable. This limited understanding of epigenetics and transcription dynamics hampers straightforward applications and prevents full exploitation of epigenetic editing in biotechnological and health/medical applications.
Epi-Guide-Edit will analyse existing and newly-generated screening data to predict long-term responsiveness to epigenetic editing (cancer cells, plant protoplasts). Robust rules to achieve long-term epigenetic reprogramming will be distilled based on i) responsiveness to various epigenetic effector domains targeting selected genes, ii) (epi)genetic/chromatin composition before/after editing, and iii) transcription dynamics. Sustained reprogramming will be examined in complex systems (2/3D fibroblast/immune/cancer co-cultures; tomato plants), providing insights for improving tumor/immune responses, skin care or crop breeding. The iterative optimisations of Epi-Guide-Edit rules to non-genetically reprogram eventually any gene of interest will enable exploitation of gene regulation in diverse biological models addressing major societal challenges.
The optimally balanced consortium of (applied) universities, ethical and industrial experts facilitates timely socioeconomic impact. Specifically, the developed knowledge/tools will be shared with a wide-spectrum of students/teachers ensuring training of next-generation professionals. Epi-Guide-Edit will thus result in widely applicable effective epigenetic editing tools, whilst training next-generation scientists, and guiding public acceptance.