Epigenetics - Potential / Importance
In 2008, an important announcement was made that would boost epigenetics research.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has disclosed that a $190 million is set to be earmarked for research on epigenetics over the next five years. Lately a lot of work has been initiated on epigenetics and epigenomics in an attempt to understand all aspects of disease initiation and progression.
What then is the significance associated with epigenetics that warrants this attention?
- Epigenetic changes are known to play a significant role in normal development as well as in many human diseases such as cancer, heart and mental disorders, cognitive dysfunction, reproductive, respiratory, autoimmune, and neurobehavioral diseases.
- It is believed that epigenetics has the potential to explain aging.
- Due to transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (observed as paramutation in maize) its role in evolution is also being considered.
- Epigenetics may also be able to explain certain congenital disorders such as Angelman syndrome and Prader Willi syndrome.
- Epigenetics influences our response to environmental factors and this in turn predisposes an individual to common conditions such as obesity and diabetes. This prompts speculation as to whether early life exposure to experiences such as abuse can bring about heritable changes in the epigenome as indicated in some DNA methylation studies on suicide and road traffic victims.