World experts from the fields of social, biological and medical science will today (Monday 25 June 2012) gather in Edinburgh to discuss how they can cooperate to improve our understanding of the way behaviours and life experiences can influence how our genetic inheritance is expressed (epigenetics). This collaboration will also help contribute to understanding the implications epigenetic changes have for such key social policy issues as parenting, poverty, obesity and health.
The symposium is organised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, and hosted at Edinburgh's City Chambers. Entitled Social science and epigenetics: opportunities and challenges, the symposium will seek to examine how multidisciplinary research into epigenetics the science of the lasting marks that modify the expression of the genes encoded in our DNA might help provide answers to societal concerns including why deprivation has such a marked impact on child development and on health outcomes.
Epigenetics (literally 'above the gene') is a recent scientific development that examines how particular mechanisms can influence whether certain genes are turned off, turned on, or modify a gene's level of activity. Our genome includes both our DNA and chromatin that binds everything together. Research into epigenetics has revealed that even though a person's DNA is not altered, lasting 'marks' on the DNA or the chromatin structure alter the extent to which each gene is expressed to produce the proteins that are the essential building blocks of life. Emerging research shows that factors such as poverty, parenting, stress and diet can impact how someone's genes are expressed, and this can remain "hard wired", with certain of these lasting epigenetic marks even being passed from parents to children.
Speaking as the epigenetic
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