Tel Aviv — When the Human Genome Project ended a decade ago, scientists thought that they'd closed the lid on all that's to be known about our genes. But what they really did was open a Pandora's Box, says theoretical evolutionary biologist Prof. Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University's Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas.
After sifting through hundreds of scientific studies concerned with epigenetics, Prof. Jablonka concludes that some of the effects of stress, cancer, and other chronic diseases we suffer from may be passed on to our offspring through deep and complicated underlying cellular mechanisms that we are just now beginning to understand.
Prof. Jablonka will discuss her findings at an epigenetics conference in North Carolina later this month.
The invisible threat
Epigenetic research suggests that the effects of stress and environmental pollution can be passed on to future generations without any obvious change or mutation in our DNA. The problem, Prof. Jablonka points out, is that we have no idea of the extent these effects will have on the human genome of the future.
"I am a story teller. I read a lot of information and develop theories about evolution. For the last 25 years, before it became a fad, I was interested in the transmission of information not dependent on DNA variations," Dr. Jablonka says. "Epigenetic inheritance is information about us that is not explicitly encoded in our genes. Two individuals may have identical genes, but the genes present very different characteristics. They can be genetically identical but different epigenetically."
In a 2009 paper for the Quarterly Review of Biology, Prof. Jablonka wrote about cellular epigenetic inheritance and explored some of the consequences of such inheritance for the study of evolution, also pointing to the importance of recognizing and understanding epigenetic inheritance for practical and theoretical issues in biology. She has since concluded that individuals can influence their heredity.
After reviewing the literature, she has found more than 100 examples of living organisms, from bacteria to human beings, demonstrating how our genes' expression can be altered and inherited.
"Stress is enormously important," Prof. Jablonka says. "It can affect the development of cancer and other chronic diseases, and may also have long term impacts on ecology." At the conclusion of the Human Genome Project, researchers hoped that the findings would provide relief from several diseases. "What they weren't prepared for," she continues, "is that genes really do so many things, and that gene expression patterns can be heritable. We can learn some things about diseases from our DNA, but it doesn't tell the whole story."
Is environmental pollution irreversible?
Stress can create near invisible effects on gene expression, effects that can be passed from mother or father to child. Some of this operates through microRNA, tiny RNA discovered about a decade ago which work as cellular "micro-managers." In addition, a process called DNA methylation alters gene function. Various processes "hidden" in chromosomes within the cells appear to be influenced by lifestyle and disease.
As a result, Prof. Jablonka advises that it might be prudent to reconsider all the environmental pollutants being introduced into the planet's ecosystems. Some pesticides and fungicides are androgen suppressors and have many effects on gene expression — and these effects can be inherited. Whether and how future generations can endure with these altered gene functions are still open questions, she says.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (www.aftau.org) supports Israel's leading, most comprehensive and most sought-after center of higher learning. Independently ranked 94th among the world's top universities for the impact of its research, TAU's innovations and discoveries are cited more often by the global scientific community than all but 10 other universities.
Internationally recognized for the scope and groundbreaking nature of its research and scholarship, Tel Aviv University consistently produces work with profound implications for the future.
George Hunka | EurekAlert!
Brought to light – chromobodies reveal changes in endogenous protein concentration in living cells
21.09.2018 | NMI Naturwissenschaftliches und Medizinisches Institut an der Universität Tübingen
A one-way street for salt
21.09.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.
This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.
Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...
Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.
"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...
A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.
Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...
Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.
An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...
21.09.2018 | Event News
03.09.2018 | Event News
27.08.2018 | Event News
21.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
21.09.2018 | Life Sciences
21.09.2018 | Event News