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Epigenetics: Making a Mark
The epigenome is composed of modifications to DNA that determine which genes of the genome are expressed or suppressed without changing the DNA sequence. While your genome is fixed, your epigenome — which means “on top of or in addition to genetics” — is dynamic and flexible and responds to environmental stimuli. In passing genetic information on to offspring, parents also pass on epigenetic information. Consequently, environmental factors experienced by parents also impact their offspring in the form of transmitted epigenetic modifications.
Generational epigenetic transfer may have been first detected by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1740s, when he noted that a plant specimen very similar to common toadflax had markedly different flowers. He likened this oddity to that of a cow giving birth to a calf with a wolf’s head, naming the flower Peloria — the Greek word for “monster.” Plant biologists working in the 1990s found that the gene involved in Peloria’s flower structure was methylated, which silenced the gene, causing the conformational change in the flower structure.
DNA methylation and...
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