Monday, January 30, 2012

Epigenetics zeroes in on nature vs. nuture

Epigenetics is a relatively new field that looks at changes in gene expression that are not caused by changes in the underlying DNA sequence. DNA, in other words, is not necessarily destiny. One of the best-known examples of epigenetic change is seen in baby rats. Research has shown that rat pups that are licked and groomed more by their mothers are healthier and grow at a faster rate than those that don’t receive this maternal stimulation. And the pups that receive better nurturing also develop epigenetic differences that enable them to respond better to stress later in life.

While DNA cannot be changed, its packaging can be, and the process appears remarkably flexible. Emory biologist Victor Corces is among the researchers trying to piece together the mechanics of the processes behind epigenetics. One of the questions that his lab is currently focused on is how the organization of chromatin fibers in a cell nucleus affects gene expression. Watch the video of Corces’ recent presentation for the National Institute of Health’s afternoon lecture series, below, to learn more.

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