Research Summary

Randy L. Jirtle is a Professor of Epigenetics at the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Bedfordshire, Bedford, UK, and a Senior Scientist at McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI. He was previously professor of radiation oncology and associate professor of pathology at Duke University, Durham, NC, where he had been a faculty member since 1977. He graduated with a B.S. degree in nuclear engineering in 1970 and a Ph.D. degree in radiation biology in 1976, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Jirtle’s research interests are in epigenetics, genomic imprinting, and the fetal origins of disease susceptibility. He identified the first imprinted tumor suppressor gene, IGF2R, and showed that its inactivation increases tumor resistance to radiotherapy. Jirtle discovered a novel imprinted domain at human 14q32, and identified the Callipyge or ‘beautiful buttocks’ locus in the homologous region of sheep. He subsequently traced the mammalian origin of genomic imprinting from monotremes to placental mammals. These studies provided the crucial data that allowed him to complete the first genome-wide mapping of human imprinted genes using a bioinformatic approach. This has resulted in nearly twenty percent of the known human imprinted genes being identified by the Jirtle laboratory, and yielded candidate imprinted genes in chromosomal regions linked to a number of complex human diseases and neurological disorders. Jirtle also demonstrated that maternal dietary supplementation of Avy mice during pregnancy, with either methyl donors or genistein, decreases adult disease incidence in the offspring by increasing DNA methylation at the Agouti locus. Moreover, these nutritional supplements were shown to negate the negative effects on the epigenome caused by the endocrine disruptor, bisphenol A (BPA).

Dr. Jirtle holds two U.S. patents on imprinted genes. He has edited two books, and published more than 170 peer-reviewed articles, including ten publications selected as journal covers. His research has been reported in popular press accounts ranging from American Scientist and Discover to Allure and Martha Stewart’s Living Magazine. He was also a featured scientist on NOVA and ScienceNow television programs on epigenetics, interviews by EpiGenie, and the National Public Radio programs, The People’s Pharmacy, The DNA Files, SQ Radio, and The Leonard Lopate Show—Please Explain. His enthusiasm for promoting the public understanding of epigenomics led him to create the website www.geneimprint.org, which has been designated by the scientific publisher Thomson ISI as an ‘Exemplary Website in Genetics.’

Dr. Jirtle has organized a number of international meetings, including the 2011 Keystone meeting Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Susceptibility, and has been an invited speaker at dozens of others. He has delivered numerous endowed lectures, and was invited to present his research at the 2004 Nobel Symposium on Epigenetics. He was honored in 2006 with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2007, Jirtle received an Esther B. O'Keeffe Charitable Foundation Award and capped off the year with a nomination for Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’. He was the inaugural recipient of the Epigenetic Medicine Award in 2008, and received the STARS Lecture Award in Nutrition and Cancer from the National Cancer Institute in 2009. In 2010, he was invited to participate in the launch meeting of the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC) in Paris, the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, and Nestlé's 7th International Nutrition Symposium in Switzerland. Jirtle received the EHP Classic Paper of the Year Award in 2011. In 2012 he was invited to speak again in the Nobel Forum at the clinical epigenomics symposium sponsored by The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Jirtle participated in the 2013 World Science Festival in New York, and published two books on Environmental Epigenomics in Health and Disease—Epigenetics and Disease Susceptibility and Epigenetics and Complex Diseases.