Igor Ulitsky

2020 Israel Award Winner — Faculty

Igor Ulitsky

Current Position:
Senior Scientist

Weizmann Institute of Science

Genetics & Genomics

Recognized for: Elucidating the functions of a recently discovered class of RNA molecules—long noncoding RNA—and uncovering the mechanisms of how they evolve and regulate cellular activities.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: RNA function, genome regulation, computational biology, molecular evolution, developmental biology

Previous Positions:

BSc, summa cum laude, Tel Aviv University
PhD, Tel Aviv University (Advisor: Prof. Ron Shamir)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, USA (Advisor: Prof. David Bartel)

Research Summary:

Igor Ulitsky, PhD, studies the biology of a subtype of genetic material—long non-coding RNA (lncRNA)—an enigmatic class of RNA molecules produced from previously understudied regions of the genome. Similar to other classes of RNA molecules, lncRNAs are transcribed from DNA and have a single-strand structure, however lncRNAs do not encode proteins. Instead, lncRNAs appear to operate within larger regulatory networks controlling gene expression. However, even though non-coding regions of the genome comprise over 99% of our genetic material, little is actually known about how these regions function. Understanding how lncRNAs function in cells and organisms is the goal of Ulitsky’s work, but achieving this is not without substantial research challenges. For example, lncRNAs differ in structure and function across species, show dynamic expression patterns across tissues and developmental stages, and appear to utilize diverse mechanisms of action which depend on their sub-cellular positions. To overcome those challenges, Ulitsky developed an interdisciplinary approach designed to decode how sequences that encode lncRNA function by combining novel experimental and computational methodologies. Ulitsky has predicted and described principles of lncRNA evolution, revealed the consequences of lncRNA loss in the early stages of embryonic development, and discovered the roles lncRNA play in regeneration of neurons. His studies on lncRNA behavior showed that some lncRNAs affect the regulation of genes found within close physical proximity in the genome, whereas others control thousands of genes at a distance, in part during the maturation of their sequences. These discoveries have unlocked the potential of using lncRNAs as both therapeutic agents and targets with promising leads for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, brain injury, and epilepsy.

“We have today an incredible ability to read genomes, but we do not understand the vast majority of what is written in them. Our work focuses on the some of the least accessible chapters in the book of DNA, which are both challenging and fascinating.”

Key Publications:

  1. H. Hezroni, D. Koppstein, M.G. Schwartz, A. Avrutin, D.P. Bartel, I. Ulitsky. Principles of Long Noncoding RNA Evolution Derived from Direct Comparison of Transcriptomes in 17 Species. Cell Reports, 2015.

  2. Y. Lubelsky, I. Ulitsky. Sequences Enriched in Alu Repeats Drive Nuclear Localization of Long Rnas in Human Cells. Nature, 2018.

  3. R.B. Perry, H. Hezroni, M.J. Goldrich, I. Ulitsky. Regulation of Neuroregeneration by Long Noncoding RNAs. Molecular Cell, 2018.

  4. Rom, L. Melamed, N. Gil, M. Goldrich, R. Kadir, M. Golan, I. Biton, R. Ben-Tov Perry, I. Ulitsky. Regulation of CHD2 expression by the Chaserr long noncoding RNA is essential for viability. Nature Communications, 2019.

Other Honors:

2020RNA Society Early-Career Award
2020Consolidator Grant, European Research Council
2018James Heineman Research award, the Minerva Stiftung
2016EMBO Young Investigator, European Molecular Biology Organization
2015Starting Grant, European Research Council
2014Alon fellow, Israel Council for Higher Education
2008Wolf prize for outstanding PhD students (a nation-wide prize)
2005Special excellence award, Knesset education committee and university directors committee


In the Media:

Bioscholar “Israeli Researchers Solve a Critical Piece of the Puzzle of Human Deafness”

ScienceDaily “Genomic recycling: Ancestral genes take on new roles”

XINHUANET “Israeli research discovery may lead to new nerve damage treatments”

ScienceDaily “Newly Discovered Tumor-Suppressor Gene Affects Melanoma Survival”

ScienceDaily “Genomic Recycling: Ancestral Genes Take on New Roles”