Researchers map how life affects DNA
Scientists from the Babraham Institute and Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. have developed a new technique for mapping how DNA is affected by environmental factors.
The researchers focused on “epigenetic marks,” or the marks that life leaves on DNA which can alter gene behavior. For example, epigenetic marks caused by something like changes in diet can add instructions to DNA that result in silencing certain genes or switching other genes on and off. Such marks are left in a cell’s epigenetic map, which acts as a kind of “cellular memory.”
The scientists aimed to develop a more effective tool than current options—such as tissue analysis and animal studies—by which they might be able to conduct epigenetics research in order to better understand health and disease and how they're affected by changes in DNA. While current techniques examine epigenetic marks in groups of cells, the new technique follows a single-cell approach, in which researchers are able to examine epigenetic marks in one cell at a time. The researchers tested the single-cell epigenetics technique while the embryo was in a critical time in its early development.
In the findings, published in Nature Methods, the researchers explained that studying the collective epigenetic marks from individual cells may allow them to more fully understand early embryonic development. It also could provide a clearer picture of how cancer progresses and how to develop new stem cell therapies.