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Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without a change in DNA sequence. Epigenetic phenomena have major economic and medical relevance, and several, such as imprinting and paramutation, violate Mendelian principles. Recent discoveries link the recognition of nucleic acid sequence homology to the targeting of DNA methylation, chromosome remodeling, and RNA turnover. Although epigenetic mechanisms help to protect cells from parasitic elements, this defense can complicate the genetic manipulation of plants and animals. Essential for normal development, epigenetic controls become misdirected in cancer cells and other human disease syndromes.
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