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Dr Thomas Schalch

Supervisor Details


Contact Details

Dr Thomas Schalch

Department of Molecular Cell Biology, University of Leicester

Research Interests

We focus on discovering structural and biochemical principles that operate to organize and programme genomes is the major goal of research in my laboratory. Many of these processes are tightly linked to cancer and are of great interest for the development of therapeutic interventions. The following projects are currently actively pursued in my laboratory:

The structure of the chromatin fibre in the cell nucleus and its relationship to gene regulation remains poorly understood. (BBSRC grant BB/R016275/1).

Ubiquitination is not only critical for protein degradation but also for chromatin signalling where it orchestrates downstream histone modifications on transcribed genes. Our work on the histone H2B ubiquitin ligase complex aims to reveal the mechanism driving the protection of active genes by H2B ubiquitination from heterochromatin invasion. (BBSRC grant BB/S018549/1).

Our recent work on the regulation of histone H3 methyltransferase Clr4 established that ubiquitination also controls heterochromatin formation. We are very keen to investigate the molecular mechanisms that control this key enzyme.

Research group activity

Chromatin structure and function

Genes, encoded in very long and fine strings of DNA, determine how organisms develop and function. In eukaryotes, the DNA is confined to the nucleus where it is wrapped into chromatin, which consists of many different proteins that package the genomic material. Many essential cellular processes like transcription, repair and duplication of the genome happen in the context of chromatin. Like a city, the nucleus is divided into different neighbourhoods, with quiet zones called heterochromatin, and centres of bustling activity called euchromatin. As organisms develop and cells assume more and more specialised roles in the body, each cell arranges its chromatin neighbourhoods in a way that supports the gene expression program corresponding to the cell’s function in the organism. Dysfunction of cellular programs and loss of genome organisation is at the heart of diseases ranging from viral infections to cancer and plays an important role in ageing.

In my group, we study chromatin structure and the macromolecular machines that are crucial for establishing and maintaining genomic neighbourhoods. We are particularly interested in understanding how chromatin is organised in 3D and how the heterochromatin machinery silences specific regions of the genome.

The basic repeating unit of chromatin is the nucleosome consisting of ~150 base pairs of DNA and four histone core proteins as well as a linker histone protein. Previous and current studies have shown that nucleosomes interact with each other to form higher-order chromatin structures, but where and how these interactions exactly occur on live genomes, and what their role is with respect to genome function remains poorly understood. We are developing methods to get at these questions using both in vitro model systems as well as the fission yeast model organism S. pombe, which is an excellent model for studying the formation and function of heterochromatin. Furthermore, using X-ray crystallography in conjunction with genetic and biochemical experiments we are studying the mechanistic aspects of large macromolecular machines that establish heterochromatin. Recently, we have contributed to understanding the nucleosome remodelling and deacetylation complex SHREC. This molecular assembly of proteins is responsible for silencing genes that are found in heterochromatic regions and we have established the molecular details of how the complex ties together its subunits. This understanding allows us now to focus on the question of how chromatin recruits and regulates SHREC in order to guide its gene silencing activity.

Research Groups

Schalch Lab

Project Details

Dr Schalch is the supervisor on the below project:

Unlocking the Secrets of Genome Regulation through cryo-EM

Secondary Supervisor(s): Dr Amanda Chaplin

University of Registration: University of Leicester

BBSRC Research Themes: Understanding the Rules of Life (Structural Biology)

Apply here!

Deadline: 23 May, 2024

Project Outline

Conventional agricultural production systems rely on intensive synthetic inputs to attain maximal yields, particularly with respect to protection against pests (i.e., pesticide use) and nutrient provision (i.e., fertiliser use).1 Modern production systems increasingly demand alternatives to conventional synthetic inputs due to legislative changes, target resistance to active ingredients and concern surrounding their impact on environmental and human health.2-4 These factors have all contributed to the withdrawal of several key active ingredients (e.g., clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid) from commercial sale and widespread acceptance that crop protection practices must become more sustainable. Finding effective alternatives to synthetic inputs is, therefore, vital to meet sustainability demands while also ensuring food security and profitable harvests.

Biopesticides are plant protection products derived from natural sources, such as plants and fungi, that offer one such alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. Plant essential oils have gained attention as biopesticides for managing insect pests and weeds in agriculture as they are generally considered ‘sustainable’ with fewer impacts on non-target organisms and little environmental persistence.5 Essential oils are complex mixtures of low-molecular-weight, highly volatile compounds derived from various plant parts (e.g., leaves, seeds, bark and roots). Their insecticidal and herbicidal properties make them compatible with the integrated pest management principles promoted by European Union and United Kingdom legislation.

Practical use of many essential oil-based biopesticides is, however, often limited by their variable performance under field conditions due to the inconsistent composition of essential oils when extracted from plant material and a requirement for frequent re-application due to their high-volatility that makes them prohibitively costly.5 Such issues may be overcome by using novel formulation technologies that provide protection against abiotic factors (e.g., precipitation or ultra-violet light) and provide a controlled release of any active ingredients.6 Utilising new formulation techniques would then unlock the full potential of plant essential oils as a sustainable alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. This project ultimately seeks to identify novel plant essential oils that could be developed into biopesticides for managing both invertebrate and weed pests in UK arable cropping systems while also evaluating formulation techniques to improve their efficacy.


1Savary et al. (2019) Nature Ecology and Evolution 3:430-439; 2Sparks and Nauen (2015) Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 121:122-128; 3Fantke et al. (2012) Environment International 49:9-17; 4Ollerton et al. (2014) Science 346: 1360-1362; 5Kim et al. (2021). Journal of Pest Science 94:1197-1208; 6Milicevic et al. (2022) Agriculture 12:338.


  • Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to qualitatively and quantitatively identify the chemical composition of plant essential oils;
  • Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to quantify the release rate of formulated plant essential oils;
  • Insect assays to determine behavioural responses and mortality rates when exposed to unformulated and formulated plant essential oils;
  • Weed assays to determine phytotoxicity of plant essential oils using ImageJ;
  • Insect culturing techniques;
  • Biopesticide application techniques (ULV, knapsack, etc.).

Dr Schalch is also the co-supervisor on projects with Dr Yolanda Markaki and Prof Daniel Panne.

Previous Projects

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