Sandra Steyaert

picAlready before and especially since I’ve started my studies Bioscience engineering in 2007 at the University of Ghent, biochemistry and especially genetics became my big passion. Unraveling and understanding all the different (epi)genetic mechanisms that control gene expression and cellular pathways became my number one interest as I find this type of research both challenging as intriguing. During my studies I saw the importance of data analysis and therefore the focus of my masters was predominantly on the statistical and computational aspects of genomic data analysis, resulting in a major in computational biology and a masterthesis at BIOBIX titled ‘A method to detect mono- and biallelic DNA-methylation from MBD-seq using single nucleotide polymorphisms’. After my studies in 2012 I decided to stay at BIOBIX and started as a PhD student under the supervision of Tim De Meyer, Gerben Menschaert and Wim Van Criekinge.

Currently, I’m working on 3 main projects. The first one is a my primary project and involves the assessment of the influence of epigenetic factors (and in particular DNA-methylation) in neuroplasticity in songbirds (http://www.iuap-plastoscine.be/).  It’s a collaboration between the Universities of Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, Liège, John Hopkins and the Max Planck Institute Seewiesen Munich and funded by the IUAP. Combining the skills and expertise of the different teams in the network and using songbirds (Zebra Finch and Starling) as a model organism, the goal is to get deeper insight in the regulation and development of brain plasticity. The term neuroplasticity captures a wide diversity of phenomena but the primary focus of this project is changes in brain morphology, physiology and organization that spontaneously occur during ontogeny and in adulthood under the influence of sex steroid and thyroid hormones. As recent evidence indicates that DNA-methylation, histone modifications (acetylation, methylation) and noncoding RNAs (miRNA, long ncRNA) may serve as a contributing mechanism in memory formation as well as neuronal plasticity, my works mainly focuses on the epigenetic data-analysis (mostly next-generation-sequencing-data), which is also the expertise of BIOBIX.

My second project a follow-up of my masterthesis. In my masterthesis, I developed a method that based on the SNP-profiles of MethylCap-seq samples allows the identification of monoallelic DNA-methylation. Now, I’m fine-tuning this pipeline and executing it on a couple of MethylCap-seq datasets. As this method is generally useable for enrichment sequencing data, I’m planning on also implementing and using it for ChIP-seq data in order to identify monoallelic protein-DNA binding events.

Finally, my third main project involves ribosome-profiling, a new NGS technique which allows to screen ‘the proteome on the mRNA-level’ by only sequencing the mRNA fragments that were captured in ribosomes. Based on this ribosome profiling, together with Gerben, Alexander, Jeroen and Elvis, were constructing a pipeline to create a database of translation products that can be used to identify MS spectra with a high sensitivity.

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