Epigenetic regulation of access to genetic information
Jessica Tyler, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The study of epigenetics offers scientists new ways to investigate many fundamental questions about life, health, and disease. For example, how does a single fertilized egg cell differentiate into over 200 cell types, all having the identical DNA sequence information? How do exposures to nutrients, toxins, pollutants, and other environmental agents affect gene expression? Identical twins are never truly identical, so what explains the differences between them? How much of our identity is inherited; how much is acquired by interacting with the environment? These questions are at the core of much of today's cutting-edge research and technology in such fields as health care, medicine, pharmacology, fertility, and the management of environmental pollutants. Epigenetics explores how genetically identical entities, whether cells or whole organisms, display different characteristics, and how these are inherited. The field of epigenetics, standing at the interface between our environment and our genes, is beginning to offer answers. The past century witnessed amazing advances in our understanding of genetics, but secrets remain hidden within the genome. Epigenetics research is now blossoming, offering a potential panacea for these post-genome blues. Research within my laboratory focuses on finding new epigenetic mechanisms that regulate the activities of our genetic material, via the control of whether access by enzymes to the DNA is granted or prevented.