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Epigenetics: Resources for your Reporting

Epigenetics: Resources for your Reporting

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Just when you thought you had gotten a handle on genomics, here's an emerging branch of bioscience that should be on your radar screen: epigenetics.

While most mainstream media attention has focused in recent years on the decoding of the human genome, scientists are also looking at the "epigenome," processes that cause your genes to switch on and off without causing a change in the gene itself. Some researchers believe that decoding our epigenome will help us better understand how our environment not only affects our own health but that of our children.

Here's a definition of epigenetics from a Time article published last year:

At its most basic, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material - the epigenome - that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix epi-, which means above).

Randy Jirtle, director of the Epigenetics and Imprinting Laboratory and Duke University Medical Center, who spoke to journalists gathered tonight in Pasadena for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships,  likens the epigenome to software that controls the "hardware" of your genetic blueprint.

If you're interested in learning more about epigenetics, here are some great resources:

Epigenetics Resources from Science magazine. These resources will lead you through the scientific basics and key studies in the field.

GeneImprint. Randy Jirtle's aggregator of all things epigenetic, with conference listings, announcements and key studies.

University of Utah Epigenetics Page. This well-designed educational site offers fairly easy to understand videos, interactive graphics and information about epigenetics.

The Seductive Allure of Behavioral Epigenetics. Writing in Science, journalist Greg Miller skeptically examines research into the epigenetics of mental health and behavior.

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