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Epigenetic 'memory' key to nature versus nurture
Date:7/24/2011

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the John Innes Centre have made a discovery, reported this evening (24 July) in Nature, that explains how an organism can create a biological memory of some variable condition, such as quality of nutrition or temperature. The discovery explains the mechanism of this memory a sort of biological switch and how it can also be inherited by offspring.

The work was led by Professor Martin Howard and Professor Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC. Funding for the project came from BBSRC, the European Research Council, and The Royal Society.

Professor Dean said "There are quite a few examples that we now know of where the activity of genes can be affected in the long term by environmental factors. And in some cases the environment of an individual can actually affect the biology or physiology of their offspring but there is no change to the genome sequence."

For example, some studies have shown that in families where there was a severe food shortage in the grandparents' generation, the children and grandchildren have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which could be explained by epigenetic memory. But until now there hasn't been a clear mechanism to explain how individuals could develop a "memory" of a variable factor, such as nutrition.

The team used the example of how plants "remember" the length of the cold winter period in order to exquisitely time flowering so that pollination, development, seed dispersal and germination can all happen at the appropriate time.

Professor Howard said "We already knew quite a lot about the genes involved in flowering and it was clear that something goes on in winter that affects the timing of flowering, according to the length of the cold period."

Using a combination of mathematical modelling and experimental anal
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Contact: Nancy Mendoza
press.office@bbsrc.ac.uk
44-179-341-3355
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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