“Whereas genetics is the study of genes, epigenetics refers to a “layer” of additional information, which defines how these genes will or won’t be used by a cell. In other words, epigenetics refers to the study of changes in gene activity that do not change the DNA sequence and which can be conveyed during cell division.” Since the 1900s, studies have shown that epigenetic information can be passed on from one generation to the next, “but the molecular mechanisms had not been established“.
Nicola Iovino’s team at the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, refers to the biological consequences of epigenetics for the first time in the Science journal. ” These studies not only show how epigenetic changes are transmitted from mother to offspring, but also the essential role played by these changes in embryo development. “
Gene expression changes throughout life, depending on the environment (pollution, for instance) and our lifestyle (diet, illness, stress, etc.). “Some so-called “epigenetic” information transmitted from parents to children, helps to regulate gene expression, which is inherited from one generation to the next.“
The study conducted by the German team not only demonstrates transformation for the next generation but also seems to be involved in embryo development per se. Scientists suppressed a gene with epigenetic changes in fruit fly embryos and, to their great surprise, “the embryos from which the gene was harvested, did not fully develop“. Thus “it seems that inherited epigenetic information is required to process and transcribe correctly the embryo genetic code,” explained Fides Zenk, co-author of the study.
The study concludes that environmental adaptations can be transmitted to offspring in some cases. This research also looks promising in terms of treatment for numerous diseases such as cancer since a disruption in epigenetic mechanisms could lead to the development of such conditions.
For further reading:
- [Tribune] Edith Heard – Epigenetics: cell function is not just determinism
- Genetics: “Genes do not explain all living things”