Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, hence the name epi- (Greek: επί- over, above) -genetics. Examples of such changes might be DNA methylation or histone acetylation, both of which serve to suppress gene expression without altering the sequence of the silenced genes.
These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and may also last for multiple generations. However, there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism's genes to behave (or "express themselves") differently.

The molecular basis of epigenetics is complex. It involves modifications of the activation of certain genes, but not the basic structure of DNA. Additionally, the chromatin proteins associated with DNA may be activated or silenced. This accounts for why the differentiated cells in a multi-cellular organism express only the genes that are necessary for their own activity. Epigenetic changes are preserved when cells divide. Most epigenetic changes only occur within the course of one individual organism's lifetime, but, if a mutation in the DNA has been caused in sperm or egg cell that results in fertilization, then some epigenetic changes are inherited from one generation to the next.[9] This raises the question of whether or not epigenetic changes in an organism can alter the basic structure of its DNA (see Evolution, below), a form of Lamarckism.

Specific epigenetic processes include paramutation, bookmarking, imprinting, gene silencing, X chromosome inactivation, position effect, reprogramming, transvection, maternal effects, the progress of carcinogenesis, many effects of teratogens, regulation of histone modifications and heterochromatin, and technical limitations affecting parthenogenesis and cloning.

Epigenetic research uses a wide range of molecular biologic techniques to further our understanding of epigenetic phenomena, including chromatin immunoprecipitation (together with its large-scale variants ChIP-on-chip and ChIP-seq), fluorescent in situ hybridization, methylation-sensitive restriction enzymes, DNA adenine methyltransferase identification (DamID) and bisulfite sequencing. Furthermore, the use of bioinformatic methods is playing an increasing role (computational epigenetics).

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