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Plants display 'molecular amnesia'
Date:12/2/2008

This release is available in French.

Plant researchers from McGill University and the University of California, Berkeley, have announced a major breakthrough in a developmental process called epigenetics. They have demonstrated for the first time the reversal of what is called epigenetic silencing in plants.

The findings are important to develop a better understanding of gene regulation in the continuing quest to breed enhanced crops that produce higher yields, are more resistant to disease and can better tolerate environmental stress all keys to helping improve the world's food supply. But perhaps even more important, the discovery may lead to new insights into how epigenetic processes work in the human body, which could assist in developing new ways of modifying our genetic makeup to help us avoid such diseases as cancer.

Although nearly every cell in our body is genetically identical, the researchers explained, each cell type expresses a distinct set of genes. Changes to the proteins around which DNA is wound are called "epigenetic" modifications, because they alter patterns of this gene expression without changing the actual DNA sequence. However, like changes in DNA sequence, epigenetic modifications can be passed on from parent cell to daughter cell, ensuring each cell line has the proper characteristics consistently over many generations.

This process must be repeated each generation, and there is good evidence in animals that, during early development, there is a wave of epigenetic reprogramming that effectively "resets" this system. Some genes, it seems, must be more actively reset than others. And genes that do the same thing in every cell, regardless of tissue type, may not have to be reset at all.

One kind of gene is quite distinct from all of the others, because it is nearly always epigenetically inactiv
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Contact: Mark Shainblum
mark.shainblum@mcgill.ca
514-398-2189
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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