Discussion of everything related to the Theory of Evolution.
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I'm doing a module on epigenetics next semester for my masters and I'm just wondering what are the potential benefits of this area of research as they appear based on current understanding? I'm also trying to find out if this will be a growing field in the coming years and whether I should consider pursuing something down that route. Basically I just want to learn as much as I can about the field, so feel free to jump in with anything relevant at all to get a thread going. Thanks.
The current "fad" is that it isn't about the genes, the codes, the mutations, but the expression and processing of the genes. It's a fascinating, fairly new area, and maybe not as important as it's being sold, but it will turn out to pretty important.
There is a great deal to benefit from epigenetic research.
When you consider that genetic knowledge stems mainly from only about 2% (just some 20,000 or so coding genes) of the genome, a reasonable question to ask is, what’s the other 98% doing.
This is in the area of epigenetics.
And it is not simply concerned with the expression of the genes.
Have you learned so far about the information base that controls differentiation.
What about the mechanisms that put the various organs together.
What about body plans that put the organism together.
What about cell to cell communication, etc etc.
These are all areas of current research, especially in the last decade since the completion of the human genome project.
The central dogma of biology (DNA makes RNA makes Protein) is looking very inadequate now.
So my advice is go for it.
my research is that...Epigenetic processes, primarily DNA methylation and covalent modifications of histones, regulate the transcriptional activity of genes in a manner that can be modified by environmental cues. This allows variation in the expression of the transcriptome without changes in the genome. Constraint in the early life environment, such as poor early nutrition, is associated with increased risk of non-communicable diseases, including cardio-metabolic disease and cancer in later life. Such induced phenotypic change involves environmental signals acting through developmental plasticity. Recent studies in humans and in animal models show that epigenetic processes, in particular DNA methylation, have a central role in the induction and stability of novel phenotypes and in increased disease risk. Identification of such processes suggests the potential for developing biomarkers of disease risk and for interventions to prevent or reverse the adverse effects of a poor early life environment
Actually, this is the study of noncoding DNA, which can overlap with epigenetics but only incidentally. Epigenetics is the study of heritable cellular changes that are not encoded by DNA sequence.
With regards to the question - epigenetic controls are one of the major ways in which gene expression is regulated, potentially the major way. Epigenetics is what determines the differences between the cells in your body - when cells commit to different fates during development, what they're really doing is reprogramming their epigenetics, turning massive sets of genes on or off through chemical modifications of DNA or associated proteins. These modifications are then propagated through the cellular generations.
A few other reasons why people are researching it include:
- loss of the modifications often leads to cancer (for example, failure to maintain suppression of an oncogene).
- control of epigenetics is also how you reprogram cells to different functions, which is an important component of regenerative medicine.
- since it is intricately related to differentiation, a significant amount of stem cell research (itself a heavily researched field) is focused around epigenetics, and the bodies of knowledge gained from these two fields are each "feeding" the other.
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