Shelley L. Berger
Daniel S. Och University Professor
Charting new frontiers for the emerging science of epigenetics, Shelley Berger studies mechanisms linked to aging, neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and fertility. As founder of the Penn Epigenetics Program, Berger is a catalyst for uncovering new unifying biological regulatory themes as she leads research across Penn’s schools of arts and sciences, engineering, medicine, and veterinary science, attracting participation by six regional hospitals, research institutes, and universities.
Berger studies yeast and ants, tissues from healthy and diseased brains, and mouse and human sperm in a quest for basic science breakthroughs and new therapeutic possibilities. Her research focuses on complex on-off switches on DNA’s packaging material that control how cells form genetically identical yet diverse tissues in an organism, and how those switches respond to environmental factors such as diet, exercise and stress to create heritable traits without changing the underlying genetic code.
Her publications in Science, Cell, Molecular Cell, and Genes and Development have shaped the epigenetics research agenda. Notably, Berger’s 2009 Nature paper identified a single molecular epigenetic reaction that regulates lifespan, using yeast as a model organism for similar pathways in humans. In a 2014 Cell Metabolism paper, she identified a new epigenetic molecular circuit that controls longevity. Berger was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her new undergraduate course, “Epigenetics of Human Health and Disease,” offers an overview of epigenetic science and discusses the development pipeline at biopharmaceutical and academic labs for new therapeutics targeting epigenetic mechanisms to combat human disease.
Next up on Berger’s research agenda: exploring epigenetics as a tool for developing personalized new therapies for cancer, understanding links between post-concussive syndrome and other neurodegenerative diseases, and identifying contributing factors and possible therapeutics for male infertility.
She received both her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and B.S. in biology from the University of Michigan.