Friday, 18 May 2012

Epigenetic inheritance in Nematode worms



Epigenetic inheritance in Nematode worms
Anju Varghese
BIOL 1020 – Blog Assignment

Longevity has been a desired trait for human beings throughout the generations. The topic has been the point of discussion for researchers from Stanford University who have discovered that nematode worms can ‘inherit’ the ability to live longer from their ancestors who had a relatively longer life span than members of their species. The discovery of such a trait being inherited has opened new pathways in the outlook of science, particularly in the fields of epigenetics and epigenetic inheritance.  This essay will look into what the research constituted of, what findings the research presents and what the implications of the research are in science and for humans.

Epigenetics is the study of inheritance of particular traits through generations without the alteration of the genetic makeup of an organism.  Hence, epigenetics is the study of the changes to the phenotype or the expression of a gene without any changes to the genotype of the organism. This is theorized, to be effective due to the interaction between Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) and its histones to other chemical groups. Such changes or gene expressions are often induced by environmental factors or the presence of a particular allele.

Anne Brunet, a researcher in the department of genetics from Stanford University, has been studying lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans (Nematode worms) and has discovered that the trait of ‘long life’ can be passed on to future generations in the worms, allowing them to live approximately 20-30% longer. The study was initially designed to study the worms that had mutations in one of the three genes that determined the packaging of their DNA. Brunet and her researchers found that mutations in one of the genes restricted the access of many other genes, including some genes that were involved in the process of ageing of the worms. When the parent worms that had faulty genes were bred together to form offspring that had all three genes involved in DNA packaging to be functioning, it was found that the offspring were still able to live longer, like their parents. The inheritance of longevity, as quoted by the researchers, is partly due to epigenetic inheritance.

Epigenetic inheritance has been found to exist in many organisms ranging from plants to organisms evolutionarily closer to humans. “We didn’t expect that a complex trait like longevity could be inherited in a non-genetic manner.”, stated Brunet who believe that epigenetic inheritance, through her study, has proven to have broad implications for science and society (Ed Yong, 2011). Studies in epigenetics are believed to be vital to the improvement of techniques in cloning and stem cell research as these procedures rely on sustaining and removing epigenetic marks from the genetic makeup. The inheritance of fatal genetically inherited diseases could be looked into and perhaps, through the study, scientists may eventually be able to limit the inheritance of such diseases into offspring and may also be able to increase the lifespan of human beings.
 
The study of nematode worms and their ability to inherit traits such as longevity improves the current knowledge of genetics and points out to geneticists that there is more to an organism than its genetic makeup and DNA. Such studies are important to future generations, where remedies and proper treatments can be conjured for many lethal diseases.

References:
Ed Yong . (2011). Worms can inherit a 'memory of longevity' from long-lived parents. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/19/worms-inherit-memory-longevity-parents. Last accessed 20 March 2012.          Primary source

Bérénice A. Benayoun and Anne Brunet*. (2012). Epigenetic memory of longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Available: http://www.stanford.edu/group/brunet/Benayoun%202012.pdf. Last accessed 20 March 2012.                Scientific Source

Epigenetek group. (2012). What is epigenetic?. Available: http://www.epigentek.com/catalog/whatis.php?currency=au&height=190&width=500&border=1&modal=true&random=1332313484255. Last accessed 20 March 2012

New England Biolabs . (2012). What is epigenetic?. Available: http://www.neb.com/nebecomm/tech_reference/epigenetics/epigenetics.asp#.T2nL8q7X-PU. Last accessed 20 March 2012

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