An introduction to epigenetics

An introduction to epigenetics

In this article we have collected a few of the most notorious ideas behind the new science of “epigenetics” as expressed by Sir David Charles Baulcombe who is a professor of the Royal Society and head of the Department of Botanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge.


His research has helped to understand the complexity and origins of the different classes of small RNA molecules. Much of what he has discovered can be applied to animals, indicating that these are ancient processes developed at the beginning of the evolutionary tree. In 2012 he was awarded the prestigious Balzan Prize, “for his fundamental contribution to the understanding of epigenetics and its role in the development of cells and tissues under normal conditions and stress”.

Epigenetics refers to the inheritable effects of the genome that are separated from the effects of nucleotide sequences in DNA. It is a set of reactions that, not altering the structure of DNA, can influence, however, both the gene expression but also and above all what is transmitted to future generations.

Epigenetics provides a molecular memory of our past experience. This is why the effects of the environment in which we live can reach the children. DNA is central and epigenetics is a “collateral” event, but very important for DNA.

The information present in the genome is not found only in the nucleotidic ACGT sequences of the DNA molecule, but also in DNA molecular “decorations” that influence the expression of genes. These decorations are copied when the genome is duplicated during cell division. Today we also know that RNA is not just the cellular messenger that transmits the coding information processed by the nucleus to the rest of the cell – it is also a regulator of information in the genome. In fact, it is crucial to turn off some genes or make sure that others are turned on at the right time.

It is the same as always – a unit of information in the genome inherited from one generation to the next. Traditionally it was thought that genes only lead to protein encoding – but we now know that in gene sequences there are also information for specific regulatory RNAs.

Among the most powerful transmitters of transmissible mutations is stress – probably all forms of stress, both physical and psychological. But even hunger and smoking in adolescence can have a decisive weight. In fact, a recent study has shown how the effects of a famine on a population have been passed on to subsequent generations, bringing a significant change in stature into the progeny.

In conclusion

“Strong” inheritance is determined by the sequence of DNA bases. The transmission of characters connected to epigenetics is a “soft” process, because it can be unstable due to the environment. It is a slow but constant mechanism, which is determined day by day.

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Sarah O'Connor

Sarah O'Connor

Sarah is part of the Team ELC and she helps people discover what makes their life happy, meaningful, and full of ease. She is a writer, meditator and loves painting, an art she happily gets to practice a lot in her spare time.

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10 Responses

  1. I often read about how a parent experiences can influence a child, but this gave me insight in ways I would not imagine the body to work. Quite informative I look forward to read more about this research keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. We are happy that you have find this article interesting and invite you to visit the blog every week on Monday which is when a new article is out.

    1. Thanks, we are glad you have enjoyed it all and welcome you to visit the blog every week for more interesting articles.

  2. Now I have realized that our environment has a major role in the transfer of characters… Keep up the good work

    1. Hi Michael, I am glad we gave you some good source of information and helped to see things with a different perspective.

  3. I wondered why they always said a child had similar traits of the father, who is deemed to have stronger genes, now I know it’s the soft transfer which causes it. Keep up the good I will look forward to learning more

  4. This articles give me an entirely different view on how your environment determine the type of person you become.

  5. I won’t lie, my brain lit up when I read this. I knew DNA was important in carrying about past memories of how our parents survived, however, the environment affecting DNA is new to me. Thank you for such an informative post.

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