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Beyond genes: Mapping the “brave new world” of the epigenome

With the human genome — the “Book of Life” — in hand, scientists are trying to fill the pages of an anthology of closely related volumes that explain how simple chemical modifications to DNA and its packaging proteins turn genes on and off in ways that impact human health. Those companion tomes involve the human “epigenome,” the topic of the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN contributing editor Laura Cassiday notes in the article that the basic DNA sequence in the genome remains relatively constant throughout a person’s life. Epigenomic changes, however, can cause dramatic alterations how genes work without altering the underlying gene sequence. Studies link some of those changes to aging, cancer, certain birth defects, autoimmune diseases and other health problems.

The article describes ongoing epigenomics research and notes that the field is getting a boost from the National Institutes of Health Roadmap Epigenomics Program. It will fund more than $190 million in research over the next five years to support development of new technologies for mapping the epigenome. “With a brave new world awaiting exploration beyond the genome, it’s not surprising that epigenetics has risen from near obscurity to one of the hottest fields in biology,” the article notes. 

-- News release courtesy of American Chemical Society

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