Colin Semple

Head of Bioinformatics, MRC Human Genetics Unit


My work involves computational analyses of large genomics, transcriptomics and epigenomics datasets to address questions about human evolution and our predisposition to disease.


Recent developments in high-throughput sequencing have led to huge volumes of new data - consequently it's a great time to be a computational biologist. These new data relate to the variations between individuals and species, variations at the level of our genome (DNA) sequences but also at the level of transcription, as our genes are expressed and perform their functions within our cells. More recently we have accumulated additional data at another complementary level of biological complexity: chromatin structure. Chromatin structure is the physical landscape of the genome, describing the packaging of our DNA as it is wound around repeating protein complexes, called nucleosomes, then further compacted and folded into higher order structures. The various layers of packaging result in a dynamically varying landscape, or epigenome, that plays important roles in many biological processes.

We study the current avalanche of sequencing data computationally to learn more about human biology. We are interested in how the genomic variations we all carry interact with chromatin structure, gene expression and the complex cellular networks regulating genes. We want to discover how these structures and networks relate to the human traits we are all familiar with, such as eye colour, height, etc. We would like to know how they act during embryonic development and how they change during human disease processes. We also want to understand their roles in the evolutionary history of our species.

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