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Now researchers at UC Santa Cruz have demonstrated that epigenetic information carried by parental sperm chromosomes can cause changes in gene expression and development in the offspring. Their study, published March 20 in Nature Communications, involved a series of clever experiments using the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.
Epigenetic changes do not alter the DNA sequences of genes, but instead involve chemical modifications to either the DNA itself or to the histone proteins with which DNA is packaged in the chromosomes. These modifications or "marks" change gene expression, turning genes on or off.
Experiments - C - Elegans - Researchers - Susan
In their experiments with C. elegans, researchers in Susan Strome's lab at UC Santa Cruz have focused on histone marks, modifications to specific amino acids in the tails of histone proteins. Strome, a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology, said the new study addressed a central question in the field of epigenetics.
"It's a very direct question: Does inheriting sperm chromosomes with altered histone packaging of the DNA affect gene expression in the offspring? And the answer is yes," she said.
Author - Kiyomi - Kaneshiro - Graduate - Student
First author Kiyomi Kaneshiro, a graduate student in Strome's lab who led the study, said C. elegans is a good model for studying this question because histone packaging is fully retained in the worm's sperm chromosomes. In humans and other mammals, histone packaging is only partially retained in sperm.
"There is debate over how much histone packaging is retained in humans, but we know it is retained in some developmentally important regions of the genome," Kaneshiro said.
Researchers - Inheritance - Line - Chromosomes - Embryo
Researchers have focused on epigenetic inheritance in the paternal line because the sperm contributes little more than its chromosomes to the embryo. The egg contains many other components that may influence the development of the embryo, making it harder to tease out epigenetic effects in the maternal line.
In her experiments, Kaneshiro selectively removed a specific...
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