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Europe to map the human epigenome - Comments

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 1 by Neodarwinian

" Blueprint? " Recipe would have been a much more accurate name.

Interesting to see what will come of this. I reserve the right to be somewhat skeptical, though not dogmatic, about the " importance " of epigenetics. Important how? Analogously, oxygen is vital for respiration, but color coordination is only so important in dressing.

( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 00:47:09 UTC | #876157

isisdron's Avatar Comment 2 by isisdron

I'm shocked they've found the money for this extravagance considering the economic climate.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 01:10:46 UTC | #876166

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 3 by justinesaracen

It sounds like research that could lead to curing or preventing cancer. Not to mention that it does the groundwork for a better understanding of all manner of genetic diseases, in humans and in agriculture.

Like CERN/ the Hadron Collider, it is a long-term "basic research" project, and I'm proud to note that Europeans are willing to invest in this kind of open-ended endeavor, regardless of its price. So much better than arms production, don't you think?

Honestly, I don't know how the European Commission manages it finances. Its funding comes from the various European countries, of course, but may not be directly tied to their individual economic situations.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 09:39:52 UTC | #876249

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 4 by DavidMcC

Comment 1 by Neodarwinian

( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

I don't see how it can be. Epigenetic effects simply modify genetically controlled ones, through gene expression levels. Therefore, I take the "BLUEPRINT" as just a name - one that was perhaps ill-considered.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 09:50:08 UTC | #876254

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 5 by Sjoerd Westenborg

Comment 4 by DavidMcC :

Comment 1 by Neodarwinian

( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

I don't see how it can be. Epigenetic effects simply modify genetically controlled ones, through gene expression levels. Therefore, I take the "BLUEPRINT" as just a name - one that was perhaps ill-considered.

I'm afraid ill considered names like this don't help in the public understanding of genetics. Creationists and ID'ers have no problems at all using this layman's terminology to bend scientific results towards their own beliefs.

On a positive note, although this already been said, I'm really glad the European Commission is still willing to invest in fundamental research. Future researchers and medical institutions will be thankful.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 10:40:56 UTC | #876265

halucigenia's Avatar Comment 6 by halucigenia

Comment 1 by Neodarwinian :

" Blueprint? " Recipe would have been a much more accurate name.

If the genome can be said to be like a recipe, then the epigenome could be said to be like the method of the cooking process, no?

Interesting to see what will come of this.

Anything that has the potential to increase our understanding of what can be said to be often misunderstood will be very interesting indeed.

I reserve the right to be somewhat skeptical, though not dogmatic, about the " importance " of epigenetics. Important how? Analogously, oxygen is vital for respiration, but color coordination is only so important in dressing.

I also like to remain sceptical, however, analogising epigenetics to something as frivolous as colour coordination in dressing would even be a step too far for me. ;)

Of course it’s important and asking how is the key question. Not that I want to go over it again but in the past I have wondered how important it is to evolution as a whole (as per quotations from RD), but I can certainly see how it would be especially important in health and disease as the article states.

( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

No, it’s an oven. ;)

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 12:10:27 UTC | #876285

Vincentndrws's Avatar Comment 7 by Vincentndrws

In this economic climate this is exactly what needed,it give people job. Rather than bailing out failed banks.it also help in better understanding of how gene work agd disease.

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 12:23:12 UTC | #876565

billzfantazy's Avatar Comment 8 by billzfantazy

I read this recently, which was critical of the hype about epigenetics and included a comment by the Dawk himself! (cultural ref: the IT crowd for dyslexics) So does RD think the EU is wasting its money? I'd be interested to know.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 10:44:53 UTC | #876889

kriton's Avatar Comment 9 by kriton

Interesting to see what will come of this. I reserve the right to be somewhat skeptical, though not dogmatic, about the " importance " of epigenetics. Important how? Analogously, oxygen is vital for respiration, but color coordination is only so important in dressing.

( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

I find it somewhat sad that there is so much ignorance about epigenetics, so let us get this sorted out.

Without epigenetic changes, the differentiation of your cells would not work. If there was any at all, it would not be stable. Neurons would not be neurons, fat cells would not be fat cells. You would be nothing but a lump of stem cells. So epigenetics is in fact INCREDIBLY important. And the turning on and turning off of different genes is also very, very, important for diseases such as cancer.

Now, is epigenetic changes inherited from parents to child important in evolution? THAT is a different, and controversial issue.

Please do NOT mix up the issues of differentiation, disease and evolution!

And if you want an anology, you could consider the DNA the master blueprint, mRNA copies of the master blueprint, and the epigenetic code an instruction for how many copies to print.

There are also other such instructions involved, but that doesn't change the basic picture.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 16:53:56 UTC | #876965

kriton's Avatar Comment 10 by kriton

Comment 8 by billzfantazy :

I read this recently, which was critical of the hype about epigenetics and included a comment by the Dawk himself! (cultural ref: the IT crowd for dyslexics) So does RD think the EU is wasting its money? I'd be interested to know.

I'd just like to point out that if you think it would be good to understand stem cells and cancer (in this particular project leukemia would be relevant for example), then no, the EU is not wasting the money.

So please, everyone, don't call yourself "sceptical" of epigenetics if you support stem cells research and cancer research. You would be contradicting yourself.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 17:53:47 UTC | #876978

billzfantazy's Avatar Comment 11 by billzfantazy

Point taken Kriton, the article I linked to and the comment from RD were critical of the hype about epigenetics with regard to it's role in evolution rather than in the context you have explained.

There does seem to be a lot of articles about research into epigenetics' role in evolution just now however, do you think its all hype? or is there more to it?

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 18:44:42 UTC | #876988

kriton's Avatar Comment 12 by kriton

It is very plausible that epigenetic mechanisms is a way to adapt in the short term. For example, if there is a change in the environment so that food becomes more scarce or abundant this could affect how genes involved in metabolism are expressed. Those epigenetic changes could be inherited, and they could be beneficial for the offspring.

Having an ability for short-term adaptation would be beneficial, so one would expect evolution to produce such mechanisms. However, other than that, does all this have any long-term effects on evolution? And if so, are those effects important or marginal? We don't know this yet. At least, I don't :) There is a lack of evidence for important long-term effects, but who knows what the future brings.

But the bottom line is that even if there would be such effects, it would not mean that genetic evolution is suddenly unimportant or "Darwin was wrong" or anything like that. It would just be an additional mechanism. New findings in biology often adds more complexity to our models.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 20:58:27 UTC | #877015

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 13 by Alan4discussion

Comment 11 by billzfantazy

There does seem to be a lot of articles about research into epigenetics' role in evolution just now however, do you think its all hype? or is there more to it?

Epigenetics, as other have pointed out is what creates different organs from the same DNA in cells. There is great potential for controlling such growth, for example in producing replacement organs.

The Big Idea: Organ Regeneration - http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/big-idea/organ-regeneration-text - SEE LINK - The synthetic scaffold of an ear sits bathed in cartilage-producing cells, part of an effort to grow new ears for wounded soldiers. - A new kind of solution is incubating in medical labs: "bioartificial" organs grown from the patient's own cells. Thirty people have received lab-grown bladders already, and other engineered organs are in the pipeline.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 23:22:26 UTC | #877041

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 14 by Alan4discussion

Comment 12 by kriton

It is very plausible that epigenetic mechanisms is a way to adapt in the short term. For example, if there is a change in the environment so that food becomes more scarce or abundant this could affect how genes involved in metabolism are expressed. Those epigenetic changes could be inherited, and they could be beneficial for the offspring.

This has been well understood for many years for some species.

The migratory locust is polyphenic. It transitions between two main phenotypes in response to population density; the solitary phase and the gregarious phase. As the density of the population increases the locust transforms progressively from the solitary phase towards the gregarious phase with intermediate phases:

Solitaire = solitary phase → transiens congregans (intermediate form) → gregarious phase → transiens dissocians (intermediate form) → solitaire = solitary phase.

Pigmentation and size of the migratory locust vary according to its phase (gregarious or solitary form) and its age. Gregarious larvae have a yellow to orange covering with black spots. Solitary larvae are green or brown. The gregarious adult is brownish with yellow, the latter colour becoming more intense and extensive on maturation. The solitary adult is brown with varying extent of green colour depending on the colour of the vegetation. Gregarious adults vary in size between 40 and 60 mm according to the sex. They are smaller than the solitary adults.

Like many insects they also have stages of juvenile (hoppers) and adult (winged) forms of both phenotypes and of the intermediate forms.

Sat, 01 Oct 2011 23:32:42 UTC | #877043

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 15 by Alan4discussion

Comment 12 by kriton

But the bottom line is that even if there would be such effects, it would not mean that genetic evolution is suddenly unimportant or "Darwin was wrong" or anything like that. It would just be an additional mechanism. New findings in biology often adds more complexity to our models.

This is correct. Lamarckism/epigenetic inheritance, has been discussed on earlier threads - http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/642065-epigenetics. There is some evidence that some features affecting a very few genetic traits can be passed on to following generations. It is in any case in addition to the normal "hard" genetic inheritance (epi = on top of) of genes.

Indeed Darwin himself speculated on such matters, and in that instance he seems to have been wrong about "pangenes".

In the 1970s the immunologist Ted Steele, formerly of the University of Wollongong, and colleagues, proposed a neo-Lamarckian mechanism to try to explain why homologous DNA sequences from the VDJ gene regions of parent mice were found in their germ cells and seemed to persist in the offspring for a few generations. .... .... ... ... ... Although Steele was advocating this theory for the better part of two decades, little more than indirect evidence was ever acquired to support it. An interesting attribute of this idea is that it strongly resembles Darwin's own theory of pangenesis, except in the soma to germ line feedback theory, pangenes are replaced with realistic retroviruses. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism

Comment 8 by billzfantazy - I read this recently, which was critical of the hype about epigenetics and included a comment by the Dawk himself! (cultural ref: the IT crowd for dyslexics) So does RD think the EU is wasting its money? I'd be interested to know.

There was a discussion here, http://richarddawkins.net/articles/642737-is-epigenetics-a-revolution-in-evolution, with a comment from Richard - here!

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 09:40:47 UTC | #877097

billzfantazy's Avatar Comment 16 by billzfantazy

After reading a bit more on the subject, it seems to me that epigenetics provides a means for existing genes to be more fit, that is it allows our genome to be more flexible, switching some genes on or off for a few generations to account for short term environmental factors.

This mechanism, it seems to me, has no bearing on the existing paradigm of evolution by genetic mixing/mutation required for natural selection, except that apparently useless genes are nevertheless selected for in evolution, because they may have utility in extremus.

My conclusion is that epigenetics adds another layer to the existing theory of evolution and is not a threat to that theory but that nevertheless it is an important adjunct to that theory and will reward further study.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 10:28:20 UTC | #877099