Evolution is thought to be driven by spontaneous genetic variants that are enriched during times of stress. However, selection operates on phenotypes rather than genotypes. Thus, any means of generating heritable phenotypic diversity can fuel innovation. Our laboratory recently discovered that environmental stimuli can commonly induce self-perpetuating changes in protein conformations. Corresponding changes in protein function are heritable across generations, without any alteration to the genome. Our current work seeks to identify and characterize such prion-like ‘molecular memories’ in the human proteome and harness biosynthetic opportunities provided by their modes of self-assembly. Lessons learned will provide mechanistic understanding of a potentially widespread form of epigenetic inheritance that has quasi-Lamarckian features, but is firmly rooted in a Darwinian framework of mutation and natural selection.

Awards and Achievements

  • Searle Scholar
  • NSF CAREER Award
  • Sidney Kimmel Scholar
  • NIH Director's New Innovator Award
  • Glenn Foundation Award for Research in Aging
  • Bert and Kuggie Vallee Foundation Faculty Scholar