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Epigenetics

At the heart of this new field of epigenetics is a simple but contentious idea — that genes have a 'memory.' That the lives of your grandparents — the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw — can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. (BBC, Ghost In Your Genes.)

Recently, scientists have become convinced that there is a form of inheritance, called epigenetic inheritance, in which the behavior of genes in offspring is affected by the life experience of parents. Furthermore, these epigenetic changes can, at least for a small minority of genes, extend beyond immediate offspring to further generations, although (at this point) the effects do not appear to last indefinitely. There is also the possibility that epigenetic inheritance is implicated in the passing down of certain cultural, personality or even psychiatric traits. Refer to Ireland and Cromwell, and to Slavery. (Hunter, Phillip. What Genes Remember.)

Epigenetics is one of the most scientifically important, and legally and ethically significant, cutting-edge subjects of scientific discovery. Epigenetics link environmental and genetic influences on the traits and characteristics of an individual, and new discoveries reveal that a large range of environmental, dietary, behavioral, and medical experiences can significantly affect the future development and health of an individual and their offspring.

Epigenetics adds another layer of complexity to individual variability. (Rothstein, Mark A., Yu Cai, and Gary E. Marchant. The Ghost in Our Genes: Legal and Ethical Implications of Epigenetics.)

Epigenetics is now recognised to have a major role in regulating the function of genes in humans, leading to individuals with the same genotype having different phenotypes. There is now strong evidence that these effects on gene function are influenced by experience such as nutrition, drugs, and sensory stimuli. In genetics, a major focus for many years has been how messenger RNA carries the genetic information from DNA to places in the cell where proteins are made. The messenger RNA rounds up the amino acid units to make the proteins. Now this field has changed because we now know that cells are full of small RNAs (microRNAs) that do not code for protein synthesis but are directly involved in gene function and protein synthesis. MicroRNAs may carry genetic information for the next generation independently of DNA by hitching a lift in the sex cells. This has opened up the concept that there could be inheritance of characteristics acquired during acquired during an individual’s lifetime that are not due to gene mutation. (Mustard, J. Fraser, MD. Early Childhood Development: How does experience in early life affect brain development? 2008. p. 14.)

The field of epigenetics has emerged to bridge the gap between nature and nurture. In the 21st century you will most commonly find epigenetics defined as “the study of heritable changes in genome function that occur without a change in DNA sequence.” (Epigenome Network of ExcellenceArticle.)

Epigenetics links the fields of genetics and developmental biology. It refers to the fundamental biological process by which organisms with two or more different cell types establish patterns of differential gene expression that are stable through cell division. Findings are challenging the text-book view of the cell cycle. (Laird Lab. Article.)

Epigenetics is the study of epigenetic inheritance: the transmission of information from a cell / multi-celled organism to its descendants without that information being encoded in the nucleotide sequence of the DNA. (Epigenetic Inheritance. Article.)

Epigenetics is a term in biology used today to refer to features (e.g.,DNA modifications, chromatin) that are stable over time in rounds of cell division but do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Article.)

Epigenetic plasticity can lead to an array of chronic diseases in older age if adverse nutritional and environmental circumstance sare present during fetal and neonatal periods of development. (Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. CA: Mountain of Love / Elite Books, 2005, pp 158-159)

Epigenetics is the term that describes the study of heritable changes in genome function that occur without a change in DNA sequence. This includes; the study of how patterns of gene expression are passed from one cell to its descendants.Biological complexity depends less on gene number, and more on how those genes are used (expressed), which is largely due to epigenetic mechanisms. (The Epigenome Network of Excellence. Article.)

The concordance rate for reading problems in identical twins is less than 100%. This implies that epigenetic and environmental factors must be also involved. (Byrnes, James p., PhD. Minds, Brains, and Learning. NY: The Guilford Press, 2001, p 138)

The term surfaced 100 years ago on the printed page: gene function can be altered by more than just changes in sequence. Today, a wide variety of illnesses, behaviors, and other health indicators already have some level of evidence linking them with epigenetic mechanisms (e.g., cancers; cognitive dysfunctions; reproductive, autoimmune, and neurobehavioral illnesses). (Environmental Health Perspectives. Article.)

The science of epigenetics, (meaning control above genetics)studies the molecular mechanisms by which environment controls gene activity.It has established that a variety of environmental influences (e.g., nutrition,stress, emotions) can modify genes without changing their basic blueprint and this modification can be passed on to future generations. (Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. CA: Mountain of Love / Elite Books, 2005, pp 67-68)

Genetic mechanisms alone cannot explain how some cellular traits are propagated. Rapid advances in the field of epigenetics are now revealing a molecular basis for how heritable information other than DNA sequence can influence gene function.(Nature. International Weekly Journal of Science. Nature Insight: Epigenetics, Vol. 447, No.7143, pp 396-440)

Conrad Waddington (1905-1975) is often credited with coining the term epigenetics in 1942. Epigenetics appears in the literature as far back as the mid 19th century, although the conceptual origins date back to Aristotle (384-322 BC), who believed in epigenesist. (Epigenome Network of ExcellenceArticle.)

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