PerspectiveEpigenetics

The epigenome—a family affair

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Science  06 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6261, pp. 634-635
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad5138

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Summary

Classic dogma has dictated that, in animals, genetic mechanisms in general, and DNA sequence in particular, are responsible for transmission of traits from one generation to the next. However, an increasing number of reports over the past decade have shown that epigenetic mechanisms can also contribute to transgenerational inheritance (1). This is important because it implies that effects to which your parents or grandparents were exposed, even if not directly mutagenic, may alter your phenotype or that of your children or grandchildren. Previous studies implicated disruptions in DNA methylation patterns as the molecular basis for this type of epigenetic inheritance (2), but on page 651 of this issue, Siklenka et al. (3) show that disruption of histone modifications, in the apparent absence of any changes in DNA methylation patterns, can also form the basis for transgenerational transmission of epigenetic programming defects that can modify phenotypic characteristics in subsequent generations.