Lucas Farnung

Milton E. Cassel Scholar

Assistant Professor, Cell Biology

B.Sc., University College London

Dr. rer. nat., Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Lucas Farnung has been designated the Milton E. Cassel Scholar for the 2023 class of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars. This special award honors the memory of a longtime President of the Rita Allen Foundation who passed away in 2004.

Each human cell takes on an extraordinary feat, as it compacts its two-meter-long genome into a nucleus that is merely a few microns in size. Yet, our genetic material must remain accessible, ready to be read by the cell’s molecular machinery. To mitigate this conflict, the genomic DNA is spooled like yarn around specialized proteins called histones. Together, histones and the DNA form a structure called chromatin, akin to delicate beads on a string. The Farnung lab studies how a cellular machine called RNA polymerase II navigates through chromatin and generates blueprints of the DNA in a process called transcription. We use a combination of biophysical methods, machine learning, and structural biology approaches. Elucidating transcription through chromatin is important to understand how cells develop, morph into diverse types—like heart or liver cells—and react to the environment. With many cancers linked to dysregulated chromatin transcription, a deeper grasp of this process is vital for novel cancer therapy development.