AUG 13, 2018 7:05 AM PDT

Heritable and Environmental Factors Influence Gene Activity

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Humans carry the same genes, but there are variations in those genes that help create all the differences between us. Our genetic material can also be modified with chemical tags that change the way genes are expressed. Small shifts in the expression of some genes can have a huge physiological impact, and so scientists want to learn more about how that happens. New work reported in PLOS Genetics by scientists at the University of Exeter has shown that epigenetic tagging can be affected by both genes and the environment.

Image credit: Pixabay

Since epigenetic tags have an effect on gene expression, which in turn regulates our physiology, scientists want to learn more about how the tags are applied. They wondered whether epigenetic tagging itself is controlled by heritable factors.

When researchers seek to learn more about whether a human characteristic or disease is due to heritability (genes) or the environment, twins provide an invaluable resource. Because some twins carry the exact same genome, they can demonstrate whether something is purely genetic, in which case both twins will be equally impacted, or not. 

For this work, an international team of researchers including scientists from the University of Exeter, King's College London, and Duke University, assessed a group of over 700 twin pairs, focusing on one of the most common chemical modifications that’s made to DNA - methylation. 

The team compared the epigenetics in identical and non-identical twins; they found that identical twins tended to carry more similar epigenetic tags. While they found that the environment seemed to still be the biggest factor affecting epigenetic tags, their data also indicated that heritable factors do indeed exert an influence on epigenetics.

Related: Learning More About Epigenetic Tagging

"These results highlight how both heritable and environmental factors can influence the way in which genes are expressed and function, with important implications for studies of health and disease,” said study leader Professor Jonathan Mill, of the University of Exeter Medical School.

The researchers also looked at regions where epigenetic variation have a strong link to environmental factors like smoking or obesity, and found that genetics still has an impact there as well. They caution that an epigenetic label does not necessarily mean it's an environmental effect.

"Our study provides a useful framework for interpreting the results of epigenetic epidemiological studies and shows that epigenetic differences are a potential mechanism linking genetic variation to gene regulation,” added first author Dr. Eilis Hannon, of the University of Exeter Medical School. 

Mill discusses his work in the video.


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Exeter, PLOS Genetics

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 02, 2022
Immunology
A Gene Defect That Causes Deadly Reactions to Viruses & Vaccines
MAY 02, 2022
A Gene Defect That Causes Deadly Reactions to Viruses & Vaccines
For many years, researchers have stressed the need to add diverse populations to genetic studies, which have often cente ...
MAY 09, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
How A Dangerous Microbe Can Survive for Months Without Water
MAY 09, 2022
How A Dangerous Microbe Can Survive for Months Without Water
The bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/acinetobacter-baumanni ...
MAY 09, 2022
Neuroscience
Can Gene Therapy Treat Psychiatric Disorders?
MAY 09, 2022
Can Gene Therapy Treat Psychiatric Disorders?
Using cutting-edge technologies, researchers have shown how mutations in a gene called Transcription Factor 4 (TCF4) can ...
MAY 19, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Proteins That Seem to Cause Migraines are Found
MAY 19, 2022
Proteins That Seem to Cause Migraines are Found
Researchers have recently identified several proteins that circulate in the blood, and are thought to cause migraine hea ...
MAY 23, 2022
Coronavirus
The Genetics Underlying Susceptibility to Severe COVID-19
MAY 23, 2022
The Genetics Underlying Susceptibility to Severe COVID-19
Since the onset of the pandemic, researchers and clinicians have been trying to determine why COVID-19 is more severe in ...
JUN 02, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
'Short Term' Gene-Editing Corrects a Disease-Causing Mutation
JUN 02, 2022
'Short Term' Gene-Editing Corrects a Disease-Causing Mutation
There are about three billion bases in the human genome, and each letter is either an adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine ...
Loading Comments...