These two mice are genetically identical: So how can they be different colours? This can be explained by epigenetic changes. Epigenetic changes impact which genes
are turned on or off, thereby affecting the way instructions in our DNA are converted into protein and other molecules.
Epigenetic modifications are affected by lifestyle (such as diet & obesity, physical inactivity, smoking etc.) and the environment (intrauterine environment, exposure to certain chemicals). This explains why the mice above, although genetically identical, look different. They look different because of what their mothers ate while pregnant, which caused modifications that affected the way they look physically. Similarly, lifestyle and the environment cause modifications that increase our susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes.
The topic of epigenetics and its role in the development, management and possible treatment of diabetes was discussed in the Expert Forum on diabetes. Here are the main take home messages from the session on Epigenetics:
> Epigenetic changes are dynamic processes that can happen at any time during your life. What you eat when you are pregnant (intrauterine environment), postnatal environment, where you live, when you sleep, how you exercise, ageing, etc. impact us epigenetically.
> 5% of epigenetic changes can be transferred from one generation to another. An example discussed was the Dutch famine, where several studies have shown that
children born during the period of the Dutch famine from 1944-1945 have increased rates of coronary heart disease and obesity compared to those whose mothers were not exposed to famine.
>Accumulation of brown fat (sometimes called "good" fat is one of two types of fat that humans and other mammals have, with a main function of turning food into body heat) has the potential to help with the management of diabetes as it burns off excess glucose in the body to generate heat thereby preventing the accumulation
of glucose in the bloodstream - diabetes. However, the amount of brown fat reduces as you age. Research on ways to activate brown fat function in humans
>Epigenetics is reversible. If we can identify all the epigenetic modifications that lead to the development of diabetes, we could potentially reverse the gene’s state to
keep the good while eliminating the bad. We then could theoretically cure diabetes, slow ageing, stop obesity and so much more.
Watch our summary video if you would like to know more about the other presentations and sessions
during our Expert Forum on diabetes.
Picture by Agouti Mice Source: RandyJirtle and Dana Dolinoy, 2007
Category: Funding longer lives, Other
Location: London, UK