Why Is the Concept of Epigenetics So Fascinating?

It is known that, despite expectations, genome decoding has failed to respond to many questions about the health and treatment of illnesses. It has been realized that genes happen to behave in different ways depending on the environmental factors. Therefore, epigenetics has come forward to play a significant role in the modern vision of the origin of illnesses and methods of their treatment, which results in the concept of epigenetics proving to be fascinating.

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Epigenetics is acknowledged to study modifications in the gene expressions and in the phenotype of a cell entrained by processes that do not influence the DNA sequence (Tsuji, 2016). Epigenetic modifications are certain to retain in the course of a mitotic division of somatic cells and to be transmitted to the next generations. Epigenetics is aimed to investigate a range of processes, for instance, paramutation, genetic bookmarking, genomic imprinting, X-inactivation, position effect, maternal effects, reprogramming as well as other mechanisms of gene expression regulation (Cole & He, 2015).

One of the vivid examples of epigenetic modifications involves the investigation of field mice. In autumn, before it gets cold, mice are born with longer and thicker hair than in spring, despite the pre-natal development of “autumn” and “spring” mice is likely to take place under similar circumstances in terms of temperature, daylight hours, humidity. According to some studies, the signal which entrains epigenetic modification resulting in longer and thicker hair appears to be a change in the gradient of melatonin concentration in the blood. It is claimed to rise in autumn, whereas it is assumed to fall in spring. Hence, epigenetic adaptive modifications (longer and thicker hair) are induced before it gets cold, and this adaptation proves to be beneficial for the organism (MinuteEarth, 2015).

Epigenetic inheritance in somatic cells is known to play a notable part in the development of a multicellular organism. The genome of all the cells is almost identical, whereas a multicellular organism consists of variously differentiated cells that perceive signals from the environment in different ways and perform diverse functions. These are epigenetic factors that are confirmed to make provision for cellular memory (Cole & He, 2015).

Epigenetic processes happen to have a significant impact on any person’s health. There exist, for example, diseases that result from the disorder of gene methylation and the hemizygosity of genes prone to genomic imprinting. Scientists have been elaborating epigenetic therapy to treat these diseases using affecting the epigene and correcting the disorder. Besides, the connection between the activity of histone acetylation and deacetylation and the life duration has been proven to exist for many organisms. Hence, there is a chance that these processes might influence human life duration, too. It is necessary to point out that, in 2011, messenger RNA methylation was proven to affect susceptibility to diabetes (Zoghbi & Beaudet, 2016).

Although epigenetics tends to be examined in the context of somatic cellular memory, there prove to be also a range of transgenerative epigenetic effects that accompany the transmission of genetic modifications to descendants. Contrary to mutations, epigenetic modifications appear to be reversible and probably directed (adaptive). Since a majority of them disappear in several generations, they are likely to be found only as temporary adaptations (Cole & He, 2015).

In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that, since epigenetics studies genes modification which cannot be explained by changes in the DNA sequence, it is a gripping field to investigate. Besides, it might give an insight into the possibility to treat diseases that are considered incurable at present. Furthermore, it could help to understand some of the unclear psychological issues. Therefore, the concept of epigenetics is fascinating.

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Cole, P., & He, C. (2015). Introduction: Epigenetics. Chemical Reviews, 115(6), 2222-2224.

MinuteEarth (2015). Epigenetics: Why inheritance is weirder than we thought. Web.

Tsuji, B. H. (2016). Biological bases of behavior. Class notes in PSYC1001R, Carleton University.

Zoghbi, H. Y., & Beaudet, A. L. (2016). Epigenetics and human disease. Cold Spring harbor Perspective in Biology, 8(2), 2-29.

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