AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: epigenomes

Epigenomes may hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s and Cancer



Epigenomes are a relatively new discovery in Biology and there is a lot of well deserved excitement about it. Manolis Kellis, an MIT biologist, believes that epigenomes may lead us to the cure of Alzheimer’s and cancer. By understanding epigenomes, we could “reverse the actions of chemical modifications that regulate genes associated with disease”. A study was done on mice to see which genetic mutations were active for certain traits. Surprisingly, the research paired Alzheimer’s to neurons and immune cells. This could potentially mean that the place to look for a cure to Alzheimer’s is in your neurons or immune cells. Since this experiment was done on mice, it isn’t certain that the same will be true for humans, but Kellis believes it is more likely than not.

A second study was done to see which parents passed on which chromosomes. Some chromosomes tend to overpower the other, being dominant. For example, a mother chromosome that is positive for Alzheimer’s might be recessive to a father chromosome that is negative for Alzheimer’s. If scientist can determine the pattern of inheritance, they can predict the likelihood of a child inheriting that gene with greater accuracy.

Research was also done on cancer cells as they tried to figure out the origin of cancers that spread across the body, specifically metastatic cancer. When this cancer spreads it can be tough for doctors to determine the origin cell. If the origin cell can be located using epigenetics, it can increase the accuracy of locating the parent cell to 90%.

Kellis reminds us that it would be years before a cure is found as drug testing and creation are complex. And as we know epigenomes change from environmental factors leading to a vast amount of possibilities making it an even more complex process. However, this is a big step in the right direction.


Additional links:

Can Stress Affect Pregnancies in Later Generations?

We all know stress isn’t always a good thing, but it could be important to especially avoid it at certain points in one’s life. Recently researchers from the University of Lethbridge in Canada investigated the effects of stress on pregnancies and how it can influence pre-term births. It is already known that pre-term births them selves lead to health issues later in life, but there were some new discoveries involving epigenetics.




These researchers studied the length pregnancies of rats, due to the generally small amounts of variation between them, and found something intriguing. They carried out the experiment by first splitting the first generation of rats into “stressed” and “not stressed” groups. What they found was that the daughters of stressed rats had a shorter pregnancy than the daughters of not stressed rats.

This trend continued into the granddaughters of the rats. They also displayed high levels of glucose than the control group, and they weighed less. The stress also compounded, or increased, through generations.

This can all translate into human pregnancies. The researchers believe that the epigenetic changes in the rats is due to microRNA (miRNA) – non-coding RNA molecules that play a role in regulating gene expression. They bind to complementary mRNAs and prevent them from being translated. This is different than what is usual belief with epigenetics which is that epigenomes are affected by DNA methylation of the nucleotide base pairs. Metz, a scientist working on this research states that microRNAs “are important biomarkers of human disease, can be generated by experiences and inherited across generations. We have now shown that maternal stress can generate miRNA modifications with effects across several generations.”

It is very similar to the information found with the generational epigenetic effects of famine in the “Ghost in Our Genes” video that we watched in class.

This research can help determine pre-term births and the causalities that can come along with them. While the research is still not the whole picture, it is another step towards understanding our genetics.


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar