Is Epigenetic Inheritance a Lost Cause?

Medscape Staff

October 13, 2021

Epigenetic tags may not be handed down through generations, but research is unveiling new avenues to evaluate disease and the aging process.

What to know:

  • About a decade ago, research seemed to show evidence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, or the idea that marks on genes that people acquire in disasters, like famine, could be passed on to their children.

  • However, there has not been convincing evidence overall that the epigenome is passed down through generations, at least in humans; now, epigeneticists think of the epigenome as a way that genes adjust to unpredictable environments rather than a way in which the environment directly acts on genes.

  • Research instead focuses on studying epigenetic marks like DNA methylation to learn more about the pathophysiology of diseases and to help create epigenetic clocks that can estimate the biologic age of different tissues in the body.

  • Epigeneticist Jonathan Mill, PhD, is working with a team at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom to create an epigenetic clock of the brain. They have identified differences in DNA methylation between individuals with and without dementia, which could be used to guide diagnostics and treatments.

  • Epigenome mapping is also becoming more accessible, and technology by Oxford Nanopore Technologies can measure methylated bases in addition to the four nucleotides in DNA so that genome sequencing and epigenome sequencing can be done simultaneously.

This is a summary of the article, "Epigenetics, the misunderstood science that could shed new light on ageing," published by The Guardian on October 10. The full article can be found on theguardian.com.

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