Geeta J. Narlikar

University of California, San Francisco

Primary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Secondary Section: 29, Biophysics and Computational Biology
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2021)


Geeta Narlikar is a chromatin biologist and enzymologist who studies the molecular mechanisms of genome organization and function. Her lab is known for uncovering the core biophysical behaviors underlying the complex biological actions of chromatin regulators. Narlikar was born in Cambridge, U.K. and grew up in Mumbai, India. She obtained a combined Bachelors and Masters Degree in Chemistry from Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. She obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University where she studied the mechanisms of RNA catalysis and folding with Daniel Herschlag. She carried out postdoctoral research on chromatin remodeling enzymes at the Massachusetts General Hospital with Robert Kingston. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco since 2003. She enjoys teaching and mentoring graduate students. She believes that kindling the fire of curiosity within graduate students and consistently supporting their initiative brings out the best in them. She is currently co-director of the Tetrad Graduate Program at UCSF. She was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2021.

Research Interests

Geeta Narlikar’s laboratory studies how genome organization is regulated to control genome function. The Narlikar laboratory’s biochemical and biophysical work has elucidated the sophisticated mechanisms underlying chromatin remodeling and compartmentalization leading to some unexpected findings that have general implications for genome regulation. For example, the Narlikar laboratory found that unlike text-book models of nucleosomes, in which the histone core maintains a stereotypical rigid arrangement, the histone core is highly plastic. They have shown that such plasticity allows chromatin remodeling machines to mobilize nucleosomes without disassembling the histone core. These findings imply that nucleosomes may act akin to a dynamic receptor rather than a static packaging unit. In another example, the Narlikar laboratory made the pioneering discovery that HP1 proteins, which are central components of repressive genome compartments, possess phase-separation properties and can further deform and compact nucleosomes into liquid-like compartments. These findings have catalyzed new ways to conceptualize and study genome compartmentalization. Overall, the work being carried out in the Narlikar lab has fundamental implications for understanding how histone modifications, histone variants and factors such as chromatin remodeling machines and HP1 regulate epigenetic states in physiological and pathological contexts.

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