About me

Karl Ekwall is an expert on genetics, chromatin and epigenomic analyses, using primarily fission yeast (S. pombe) as a model organism. During his PhD at Uppsala university he performed pioneering genetic screens for position-effect variegation in S. pombe. As a post-doc in R. Allshire’s group at MRC Human Genetics (Edinburgh) he identified the Swi6 (HP1) protein as the first centromeric chromatin protein to be described in fission yeast (Ekwall et al Science, 1995). He also demonstrated that the control of epigenetic states at centromeres was governed by histone acetylation (Ekwall et al Cell, 1997). After starting his own laboratory at Karolinska Institute in 1999 Ekwall has made important contributions towards understanding the role of RNAi in heterochromatin assembly (PNAS, 2002; Genes & Dev, 2005). In fact, the ensemble of research on epigenetic regulation of centromeric heterochromatin has provided a universal paradigm for unraveling the chromosomal regulatory machinery that operates at the chromatin level to control gene expression (Ann. Rev. Genetics, 2007). Thus, Ekwall has since then taken a holistic approach towards understanding epigenetic regulation, unraveling mechanisms at work both in centromere and gene regulation. One such mechanism is histone deacetylation by HDAC enzymes. Ekwall developed a robust epigenomic methodology for S. pombe after a sabbatical in M. Grunstein’s laboratory at UCLA and used this for systematic study of the specificity and functions of HDACs (EMBO J 2005; EMBO J 2007). Ekwall’s current research is focused on characterizing the function of SNF2 chromatin remodeling factors in epigenetic control and in nuclear organization. His team has determined the mechanistic in vivo and in vitro functions for Chd1 in nucleosome disassembly and spacing (EMBO J 2007; 2012). Chd1 is a key chromatin remodeler, recently implicated in mouse stem cell maintenance and control of pluripotency. The Ekwall group recently provided evidence for DNA topoisomerases and histone ubiquitination in chromatin regulation (EMBO J 2010; PloS Genetics 2013; Nature Struct Mol Biol 2010, 2014). In recent years Ekwall has also developed clinical aspects of his research. He founded the Swedish Epigenetics network (2007) bridging basic and clinical research in epigenetics in Sweden. Ekwall’s group has investigated epigenetic control of human blood cell differentiation (Blood 2014; Nature 2014) and is just now studying epigenetic changes in leukemia in collaboration with clinical research groups at KI (Blood 2010, 2014; Leukemia 2013).

Research description

My group is carrying out both basic research in epigenetics and applied research in cancer epigenetics. We are studying yeast cells (S. pombe) and human cell lines for the basic research and we are using human blood cells as a model to study cell differentiation and cancer.


Docent-competent (Associate Professor) in Molecular Genetics, KI 1999

Professor-competent in Molecular Biology, Univ College Sodertorn, 2007

Professor-competent in Medical Genetics and Epigenetics, KI 2009

Doctor of Philosophy (Molecular Biology, Uppsala University Sweden) 1994

Bachelor of Microbiology (Uppsala University, Sweden) 1988

Academic honours, awards and prizes

Professor of Molecular Biology 2007-2009 at Sodertorn University

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) Research Fellow (2002-2007).

Associate Professor (Högskolelektor) at Sodertorn University (2000)

Appointed as Assistant Professor at KI, Stockholm (Swedish Medical Research Council position ‘MFR’) (1997-2000)

The Göran Gustafsson Prize in Molecular Biology (2009)

Distinguished Professorship at Karolinska institute (2010-2014)

Gene Expression Systems Epigenomics Innovator Award (2011)