Henry Thomas joined the Buecker lab in 2018 after his master’s degree in Biochemistry in Munich to study how enhancers regulate gene expression during cell differentiation. Enhancers are short stretches of DNA sequences that control the expression of genes when cells differentiate from one cell type to another. In his thesis “How do promoter-proximal enhancers activate transcription?”, Henry revealed how multiple enhancers work together to activate the Fgf5 gene during differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells. He showed that different Fgf5 enhancers contribute to gene activation at distinct time points during the differentiation and that the strength of activation depends on how close the enhancer elements are to the Fgf5 gene. Moreover, he demonstrated that this dependency on genomic distance is especially pronounced for enhancers that have only low activity by themselves.
Henry Thomas’ findings have important implications for understanding how enhancers can find and activate their specific target genes in the genome. Currently, Henry is a post-doctoral fellow at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York under the supervision of Timothee Lionnet and Esteban Mazzoni. He is working on how HOX transcription factors activate gene expression at the single-molecule level.