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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Prof Karen A Lillycrop BSc, PhD

Professor of Epigenetics, Principal Investigator (Developmental Biology, Institute of Developmental Sciences)

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Prof Karen A Lillycrop is Professor of Epigenetics within Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Career History

2014-present: Professor of Epigenetics. Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, UK.
2012-2014: Reader, Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, UK.
2007-2012: Senior Lecturer. Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, UK.
1995-2007: Lecturer. Department of Biochemistry, University of Southampton, UK.
1987-1992: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Molecular Pathology, University College, London, UK.

Academic Qualifications

1984-1987: Biochemistry PhD. University of Leicester, UK.
1981-1984: Chemistry and Biochemistry First Class BSc (Joint Hons). Imperial College London.

Highly cited

Research interests

Epigenetic mechanisms and Human disease

The incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease has risen sharply over the last 20 years and has now reached epidemic proportions. Genome wide association studies have shown that fixed genomic variations can only explain a fraction of the variation in NCD risk within a population. There is however increasing evidence that the environment, particularly early life environment can influence our future disease risk. The mechanism by which early life environment can influence future disease risk is beginning to be understood and epigenetic processes have been implicated.

Epigenetics is defined as processes that induce stable changes in gene activity without a change in gene sequence. The major epigenetic processes being DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNAs. In collaboration with Professor Graham Burdge, Professor Lillycrop was the first to show that poor maternal nutrition altered the physiology of the offspring via changes in the epigenetic regulation of specific genes. She has subsequently shown that nutrition throughout the life course can modify epigenetic processes.

The current aim of the research in our lab is to discover the mechanisms underlying the interaction between environmental factors, genetic and epigenetic processes and their influence on disease risk across the life-course, and to translate this understanding to identify individuals at increased risk, and develop intervention strategies to reduce the burden of NCDs in later life. We are employing a range of cellular, molecular and bioinformatic approaches to study the environmental influences on the epigenome including transcriptomics and single cell transcriptomics, candidate and genome wide methylation studies, Chromatin  immunoprecipitation studies, Chromatin structural studies, and machine learning.

Research lab facebook page:

Epigenetic mechanisms and human disease
Epigenetic mechanisms and human disease
Schematic showing the influence of the environment on the epigenome
Schematic showing the influence of the environment on the epigenome
Influence of maternal dysglycemia on the infant’s methylome
Influence of maternal dysglycemia on the infant’s methylome
Changes in DNA methylation associated with muscle ageing and sarcopenia
Changes in DNA methylation associated with muscle ageing & sarcopenia

Current projects

1. Epigenetic Biomarkers and Determinants of Cardiovascular Risk in Children

2. Breaking the intergenerational cycle of obesity; the role of the epigenome

3. The impact of Gestational Diabetes on the health of the next generation

4. The effect of Pre-and periconceptional nutritional and lifestyle interventions on DNA methylation in high and low income countries

5. Epigenetic mechanisms in metabolic bone disease: from pathology to biomarker

6. The influence of paternal diet and body composition on the sperm epigenome and health of the child

7. Muscle ageing and sarcopenia: a multi-omic approach to study the influence of the environment across the life course and causal pathways of muscle ageing

8. Effect of hypoxia on the methylome and implications for critical care treatment

Research group

Developmental Biology

Affiliate research group

Human Development and Health

Module Co-ordinator

BIOL3015 Regulation of gene expression
BIOL3052 Biomedical Technology

Karen is a founder member of the EpiGen Global Research Consortium ( The EpiGen consortium is a collaborative global research consortium whose interests to date have focused on developmental plasticity, nutrition, epigenetics, and human health.

Established in 2006, the EpiGen Consortium is comprised of researchers from Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences, together with the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and the Southampton NHIR Biomedical Research Unit in Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle. The key groups within these organisations have synergistic skills and world leadership in the technology and science of applied epigenetics.

Our work has ranged from public policy, advocacy and educational interventions, to fundamental epigenetics and mathematical biology and to undertaking clinical trials. EpiGen has developed substantial and productive relationships with the private sector. These research contracts have provided in the region of SG$62m in funding to enable us to advance the fields of applied epigenetics and maternal and infant nutrition.

Prof Karen A Lillycrop
Biological Sciences
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Life Sciences Building 85
University of Southampton
Highfield Campus
SO17 1BJ

Room Number : SGH/B/06

Facsimile: (023) 8120 3332

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