"Although the human genome was sequenced more than five years ago, it can provide scientists with comparatively few clues to the origins and treatment of disease.
The bulk of that information lies buried in the "epigenome" -- from the Greek epi, meaning "in addition to." The epigenome consists of chemical "amendments" to strings of DNA that spell out the human genetic code.
Now, an international group of 40 leading cancer scientists are proposing a new effort -- the Human Epigenome Project -- to map these chemical modifications.
And it would appear some of these altered genes are passed on to future generations with a range of studies emerging to support the idea.
BBC News Genes can be 'changed' by foods
"What we eat may influence our health by changing specific genes, researchers believe.
Several studies in rodents have shown that nutrients and supplements can change the genetics of animals by switching on or off certain genes."redux [08.18.05]
Wired News Whew! Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny
"The more we learn about the human genome, the less DNA looks like destiny.
As scientists discover more about the "epigenome," a layer of biochemical reactions that turns genes on and off, they're finding that it plays a big part in health and heredity.
By mapping the epigenome and linking it with genomic and health information, scientists believe they can develop better ways to predict, diagnose and treat disease."redux [07.02.04]
The Scientist Epigenetics: Genome, Meet Your Environment
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"In a written commentary, evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci said that Ruden's experiment was "one of the most convincing pieces of evidence that epigenetic variation is far from being a curious nuisance to evolutionary biologists." Pigluicci doesn't go so far as to say that the heritable changes caused by Hsp90 alterations are Lamarckian, but Ruden does. "Epigenetics has always been Lamarckian. I really don't think there's any controversy," he says.
Not that Mendelian genetics is wrong; far from it. The increased understanding of epigenetic change and the recent evidence indicating its role in inheritance and development doesn't give epigenetics greater importance than DNA. Genetics and epigenetics go "hand in hand," says Ohlsson. In the case of disease, says Reik, "there are clearly genetic factors involved, but there are also other factors involved. My suspicion is that it will be a combination of genetic and epigenetic factors, as well as environmental factors, that determine all these diseases.""redux [10.07.03]
BBC Geneticists hunt control patterns
"The Human Epigenome Project will look for patterns in our "life code" that are associated with gene regulation but are also implicated in causing disease."
"Researchers at Epigenomics AG in Berlin and the Sanger Institute in Cambridge will take part in the five-year study."Genomeweb Epigenomics, Sanger Institute Launch First Phase of Human Epigenome Project
"The announcement follows the completion of an HEP pilot project that studied methylation patterns within the Major Histocompatibility Complex in chromosome 6 to determine the methylation status of over 100,000 sites. Data from the pilot study, which was funded by the European Union, was released today on the HEP's website."
"The methylation data will be integrated with the human genome sequence using the Ensembl interface and publicly released at www.epigenome.org and at www.sanger.ac.uk/epigenome."redux [10.06.03]
The New York Times A Pregnant Mother's Diet May Turn the Genes Around
[requires 'free' registration]
"With the help of some fat yellow mice, scientists have discovered exactly how a mother's diet can permanently alter the functioning of genes in her offspring without changing the genes themselves."
"The research is a milestone in the relatively new science of epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors like diet, stress and maternal nutrition can change gene function without altering the DNA sequence in any way."redux [09.13.01]
The Scientist The Meaning of Epigenetics
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"The term was introduced by Conrad H. Waddington in 1942.1 To paraphrase an erudite epistolary exchange in Science, he is said to contrast genetics with epigenetics , the study of the processes by which genotype gives rise to phenotype. In 1942 we had barely any clue as to what those processes are, so "epigenetic" had no connotation of the underlying chemical mechanism, whatever it was that modulated cell differentiation.
In 1994, as cited in the same issue of Science, Robin Holliday voiced a commonly apprehended drift in meaning, and redefined epigenetic as "Nuclear inheritance which is not based on differences in DNA sequence." These two memes are freely circulating and can cause muddle or mischief mainly when they recombine, namely when epigenetic-H is automatically applied to epigenetic-W."
"This neology of nucleic, epinucleic, extranucleic, has attracted few followers, I think largely because so few people had really thought through the distinctions. There is much merit in Ben Johnson's caution about unbridled proliferation of terms: "A man coins not a new word without some peril, and less fruit; for if it happen to be received, the praise is but moderate; if refus'd, the scorn is assur'd." But is a polysemy to be preferred, with thought-muddling as a further peril?"redux [08.16.01]
Science Behind the Scenes of Gene Expression
[ summary can be viewed for free once registered ]
"Some of the weirdest genetic phenomena have very little to do with the genes themselves. True, as the units of DNA that define the proteins needed for life, genes have played biology's center stage for decades. But whereas the genes always seem to get star billing, work over the past few years suggests that they are little more than puppets. An assortment of proteins and, sometimes, RNAs, pull the strings, telling the genes when and where to turn on or off."
""The unit of inheritance, i.e., a gene, [now] extends beyond the sequence to epigenetic modifications of that sequence," explains Emma Whitelaw, a biochemist at the University of Sydney, Australia."
""[Epigenetic effects] give you a mechanism by which the environment can very stably change things," says Rudolph Jaenisch, a developmental biologist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Researchers are hoping to harness these effects to design drugs that correct cancer and other diseases brought on by gene misregulation."redux [07.11.00]
Wired News Following Cancer's Red Flags
"Genes are tricksters. They can be turned on or off -- and whether they're on or off decides whether the gene-owner will develop disease.
Gene researchers have embarked on a new field of research, called epigenomics, to determine whether genes are in the on or off position. This type of marker could prove an important diagnostic or therapeutic tool for all types of cancer.
"At Johns Hopkins, researchers are performing clinical trials on about 15 patients with leukemia and other cancers to find out if epigenomics might give pharmaceutical companies a lead for developing cancer drugs.
The research, like all epigenomics research, is studying a chemical found in everyone's DNA called cytosine. Cytosine is the only chemical of the four that make up human DNA (the others are adenine, thymine, and guanine) that is prone to a phenomenon called methylation. When cytosine is methylated, it tuns off its gene."
“Bioinformatics will be at the core of biology in the 21st century. In fields ranging from structural biology to genomics to biomedical imaging, ready access to data and analytical tools are fundamentally changing the way investigators in the life sciences conduct research and approach problems. Complex, computationally intensive biological problems are now being addressed and promise to significantly advance our understanding of biology and medicine. No biological discipline will be unaffected by these technological breakthroughs.”BIOINFORMATICS IN THE 21st CENTURY
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