Researchers have identified a crucial step in a genetic process required for the development of viable eggs. The process, known as imprinting, distinguishes the paternally-inherited and the maternally-inherited copies of a number of developmentally important genes.
The majority of mammalian genes are present in two copies, both of which are equally expressed and regulated. A small number of mammalian genes, however, are subject to special regulation by a process called gene imprinting. The imprint is a chemical mark, such as methylation, attached to genes during egg or sperm development. Imprinting physically marks genes in such a way that the parental origin of the two copies can be distinguished so that one parents copy is turned on while the other is silenced. Imprinted genes are the likely reason that maternal and paternal contributions are necessary for normal mammalian development.
Exploring the mechanisms underlying gene imprinting may provide insight into so-called epigenetic control of gene expression, in which the cellular machinery governs the expression of genes in the cell. The function of that machinery, which makes modifications to the genome, remains among the major mysteries in biology.
Jim Keeley | HHMI
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