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Epigenetics: How many methylation patterns can be attributed to ethnic ancestry?

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From Anna Azvolinsky at The Scientist:

In a study published last week (January 3) in eLife, Burchard and colleagues showed that about 75 percent of methylation signatures could be explained by the children’s genetic ancestry. The other 25 percent, however, is likely due to social or environmental factors that co-vary with self-identified race/ethnicity. The study is among the first to probe how the epigenome is influenced by genetic ancestry. Additional investigations are needed to better understand to what extent race and ethnicity are interchangeable with genetic ancestry, experts say.

It is challenging to draw conclusions from methylation analyses like this one because “a lot of the variation can be explained by background genetic variation of individuals,” noted Conley. In other words, “just because the methylation pattern is not associated with a distinct ancestry-related genetic marker, does not necessarily mean it is due to environmental causes,” he said.

Further, the field is only beginning to fully understanding which loci are linked to genetic ancestry. “We are still in the early days of understanding genotype-phenotype relationships of genomic ancestry,” said Conley. More.

One hopes that researchers won’t be scared away merely by PC cultural sensitivity issues.

In later life, most people contend with chronic diseases and knowing about specific relationships between genes, gene switches (epigenetics), and environment in one’s own situation may help one enjoy a healthy old age. We have the advantage of much more information than in the past, but understanding and explaining it will be a chore. Good thing the selfish gene died out last year. 🙂

See also: Stories that mattered in 2016: 3: Epigenetics becomes, increasingly, a normal study area in science

Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!


Will selfish gene concept die as its proponents retire?

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