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Centre for Epigenome Mapping Technologies (CEMT)

Generating reference epigenomes for normal and malignant human cells

Project Leaders Marco Marra , Martin Hirst , Steven Jones
Project Co-Investigators Sam Aparicio , Joseph Connors , Max Cynader , Connie Eaves , Randy Gascoyne , David Huntsman , Aly Karsan , Michael Kobor , Christian Steidl , Andrew Weng
Project Contacts

For all project related inquires contact:

Sinead Aherne
Involved Organizations
Funding Agencies
nucleosome structure. Source:

Schematic of a nucleosome - a unit of chromatin


The DNA found in a single human cell is approximately 2 metres long. In order to fit into such a small space, the DNA is wound up tightly around proteins. This combination of DNA and proteins is called chromatin.

Both the DNA itself and the protein components of chromatin can be “tagged” with a variety of small molecules that affect how the DNA in the tagged region is processed. For example, some tags loosen the grip of the chromatin proteins on the DNA, making the genes in that region more accessible and therefore more likely to be activated. Other tags are recognised by specialised proteins within the cell that attach themselves to the chromatin and alter the activity of nearby genes. These effects can occur regardless of the actual sequence of the DNA in the tagged region, and can change over time. As with any other complicated control process, tagging mistakes can sometimes occur that alter gene expression and hence cell behaviour. This kind of mistake can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases.

The study of tagged chromatin is called epigenomics. Thanks to advances in technology pioneered in part at the Genome Sciences Centre, scientists have recently begun to understand more about how epigenomic tags work, and how important they are in the regulation of gene activation. In contrast to the genome, which remains mostly the same throughout an individual’s life, the epigenome changes during development and aging, in response to various external stimuli, and as the individual develops a disease. Thus, an understanding of what epigenome states exist in different cell types and how these states are specified is critically important to many aspects of human health and disease.

The Centre for Epigenome Mapping Technologies project involves the establishment of a major Canadian centre of epigenome analysis at the Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver. This data is hosted at We aim to produce high quality reference epigenome maps, incorporating several different epigenomic modifications as well as matching DNA sequences and gene expression profiles, for several normal and cancerous tissues. We will also work on developing new epigenomic analysis methods and on improving the cost, efficiency, and quality of existing methods.

Our team includes specialists in genome and epigenome sequencing, bioinformatics, and clinicians with expertise in specific human diseases. We collaborate with other Canadian epigenome mapping and data centres under the umbrella of the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium, and are also part of the International Human Epigenome Consortium.

Contact Information

For all project related inquires please contact:

Sinéad Aherne, PhD, Project Manager

Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency