Epigenomics, evolution, and human health

Dr. Amos Tanay, Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics; Department of Biological Regulation


The field of epigenetics deals with molecular mechanisms that allow the stable genetic information coded into an organism’s genome to be interpreted in many different ways. The group of Prof. Amos Tanay is developing new experimental and computational approaches to understand how the dynamics of transcription factors, DNA methylation, and chromosomal conformation collectively determine the epigenetic “landscapes” and gene regulation patterns that determine cellular function. One question explored in the Tanay lab relate to how epigenetic factors determine the differentiation of stem cells into specific cell types during embryonic development. Another research focus is the analysis of how the normative epigenetic landscape changes during aging and carcinogenesis. These and other investigations rely on single cell technologies pioneered by the Tanay lab, which make it possible to characterize the dynamics of gene regulation and epigenetic programming/reprogramming. The remarkably rich datasets produced by Prof. Tanay’s single cell approaches are analyzed using powerful original algorithms. Bridging the divide between life sciences and data science, Prof. Tanay’s team is also involved in developing new models and algorithms for understanding medical states and medical histories from patients’ records. In collaboration with one of Israel’s largest health funds, the Tanay group is applying machine learning for modelling disease progression in anonymized data from millions of patients. Such analyses help identify patients at risk for cancer and other diseases, and is also opening the way toward the use of single cell genomics both for early disease detection, and for the analysis of disease-promoting mechanisms.