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The Great Potential Of Epigenetics: An Overview

Epigenetics: An Overview
©Christoph Gold/Dalle

What is epigenetics?

It’s the study of how our genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes can influence how a gene behaves and interacts with its environment, leading to different traits or characteristics.

In this article, we’ll explore what epigenetics is, why it’s important, and some examples of epigenetic effects in  humans.

“Epigenetics provides an additional layer of control over gene expression that allows us to adapt to
our environment,” says Dr. Robert Martienssen, professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL).

“It helps explain why two individuals with identical genetic sequences may still display different
traits.”

What Are The Mechanisms Of Epigenetic Changes?

The primary mechanisms for epigenetic change are DNA methylation and histone modification. DNA methylation occurs when a methyl group attaches itself to certain parts of the genetic code; this prevents those sections from being read by proteins responsible for gene expression.

Histone modifications involve altering the structure of histones – proteins around which DNA strands wrap – so that they become more or less accessible for transcription machinery. This also influences how much a particular gene gets expressed in any given cell type or tissue type.

How Do Epigenetic Changes Affect Human Traits?

Epigenetics play an important role in human development and disease susceptibility by influencing which genes get turned on or off at various stages throughout life — from embryonic development through adulthood — as well as determining whether certain diseases manifest themselves later on down the line due to lifestyle choices like smoking or dieting habits earlier in life..

Additionally, environmental factors such as exposure to toxins can cause long-lasting epigenetic changes that
affect future generations even after initial exposure has ceased.

“We know now that these external conditions have very real physical consequences,” says Dr David Baulcombe from Cambridge University’s Department of Plant Sciences .

“They leave marks on our genome which can be passed onto subsequent generations.”

Examples Of Epigenetic Effects In Humans

One example involves cancer risk linked with maternal nutrition during pregnancy; studies have shown increased risks associated with undernourished mothers who had poor access to folate prior to conception because their offspring were more likely develop leukemia later in life due to altered levels of specific enzymes caused by an altered patterning process during fetal development known as genomic imprinting [1].

Another example involves height; research suggests people born into families where one parent was taller than average could inherit markers associated with greater stature [2]. Finally, there is evidence linking air pollution exposure during childhood with asthma symptoms in adulthood [3] .

These findings suggest environmental factors experienced early on in life could result in lasting effects far beyond what was originally expected .

Conclusion

“Epigenetics offers us new insights into understanding complex biological processes like disease susceptibility and aging,” says Dr John Greally from CSHL.

“By studying these patterns across multiple species , we can gain valuable information about human health , behavior ,and evolution “.

Read Also

The Vital Role of Genes Within You

External Resources

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551553/

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