Meet Mary Gehring, PhD

In June 2012, Dr. Gehring gave a SftPublic lecture Beyond the Gene: Epigenetics Revealed, in which she discussed the increasing importance of epigenetics in both biology and in medical research. She explained how epigenetic factors affect growth and development.

Mary Gehring, PhD, is a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and an Assistant Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Gehring received her doctorate in plant biology from the University of California Berkeley in 2005 and continued her studies as a postdoctoral researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center before joining the Whitehead Institute in 2010. She was named Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Career Development Professor by MIT in 2011.

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As scientists have learned more about genes in recent decades it has become clear that there is much more to heredity than just our genes: epigenetic phenomena contribute significantly to our ultimate development, as studies on twins have demonstrated. Chemical modifications to the proteins that package DNA or to the DNA itself can alter how the cell interprets the genetic code. Factors such as diet, environmental conditions, among other things, edit our genes and affect future generations. Dr. Gehring's research is based on a modest plant called Aribidopsis thaliana, which is the ideal model for studying the mechanisms of epigenetics, much as the fruit fly has been for genetics. The plant multiplies rapidly and is excellent for experiments.