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Top 5 Epigenetics Stories | 2012 Year in Review

12/27/2012
Andrew S. Wiecek

From identifying the mechanisms by which epigenetic changes affects honeybee development to getting a clearer view of the epigenetic mark 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), here are the top epigenetics news stories from 2012.


While genome sequencing has become relatively easy to accomplish, the same cannot be said for characterizing the epigenome. For one thing, the epigenome is vastly more complicated, involving diverse patterns of methylation, histone modification, and chromatin structure. Meanwhile, epigenetics has been associated with more and more disease and developmental processes over the past few years. This combination of complexity and biological significance has created a fertile ground for rapid technical advances. From identifying the mechanisms by which epigenetic changes affects honeybee development to getting a clearer view of the epigenetic mark 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), here are the top epigenetics news stories from 2012.

Top 5 Epigenetics Stories | 2012 Year in Review

From identifying the mechanisms by which epigenetic changes affects honeybee development to getting a clearer view of the epigenetic mark 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), here are the top epigenetics news stories from 2012.

Storified by BioTechniques· Thu, Dec 27 2012 14:10:36

BioTechniques - Why Evolution Hasn't Selected Against HomosexualityWhy Evolution Hasn't Selected Against Homosexuality An interdisciplinary team proposes that sexual orientation is inherited epigeneticall...

Because homosexuals are less likely to reproduce, it mightbe expected that evolution would eventually select against that trait. But thishasn’t been the case, leading many biologists to wonder whether there might beother dynamics in play in the developmental process of sexuality. In a paperpublished in December, a group of evolutionary biologists and mathematiciansargued that epigenetic regulation is likely involved in some manner. Using a mathematicalmodel based on the frequency of homosexulaity and their knowledge of howepigenetics marks are inherited the team suggested a role for epigenetics inthe development of homosexuality. In the end, they also propose a test for theirtheory, so we’ll keep an eye out for further developments in the coming months. . Learn more...    

BioTechniques - Devil's Contagious Cancer EvolvesDevil's Contagious Cancer Evolves Epigenetics plays a surprising role in the contagious cancer that is threatening Tasmanian devils, acco...

Australian researchers also identified epigeneticmodification as a key player in the contagious cancer plaguing the continent’sTasmanian devil population. While the devil’s genome remains stable in thesecancerous cells, the epigenome, specifically the patterns of methylatedresidues, is quite variable,  affecting geneexpression patterns. It’s interesting to note that some human cancers have alsobeen linked to epigenetic changes, so researchers hope that studying cancer inthe Tasmanian devil  will help usunderstand our own cancers. Learn more...     

BioTechniques - How Diet Affects Genes: From Honeybees to Humans | Epigenetics FeatureIn 2006, an international team of scientists published the complete genome sequence of the honeybee, revealing striking insights into the...

For bees, what’s difference between the larvae destined tobe queen and those destined to be workers? Well, it’s not encoded in the genome.Actually, it’s what they’re fed. Larvae destined to be queen bees feast onroyal jelly, which, it turns out, affects DNAmethylation patterns and, as a result, causes these larvae to developfunctional ovaries. The more widespread possibility of similar situations innature is unclear, however, since the ability to detect these methylationpatterns and other epigenetic modification remains unsettled territory. Learn more...    

BioTechniques - Another Way to Transfer MethylationAnother Way to Transfer Methylation Histone-modifying proteins, not histones, pass epigenetics marks to new DNA, according to a new study...

Another epigenetic insight  reported in 2012 was the finding thatmethylatedhistones do not transfer over to newly synthesized DNA.Instead, it’s the histone-modifying enzymes that transfer methylation status tonewly synthesized histones during DNAreplication. Overall, this brings another level of complexity to an alreadycomplicated field, and means that researchers need to keep tabs not only on themethylated histones but also the proteins that are modifying those histones. Learn more...   

BioTechniques - 5hmC Comes into FocusBy oxidizing 5hmC prior to bisulfite sequencing, scientists have, for the first time, mapped and quantified the modified nucleotide in a ...

Finally, 2012 saw the development of a technique to map andquantify 5hmC at single-base resolution. Although it’s been known to exist fordecades, 5hmC was first identified in mammalian cells in 2009. Since thenresearchers have been trying to figure out the biological significance of thismark. But until  2012, there was no methodto differentiate 5-methylcytosine from 5hmc as bisulfite sequencing wasnon-discriminatory for the two marks. This year, researchers learned that thetrick was to convert one of these marks prior to bisulfite sequencing. Nowcomes the harder part, unraveling the role of 5hmC in cancer, development, andother biological processes. Learn more...    

 

The important role of epigenetic regulation indevelopmental biology continued to emerge in novel research studies during2012. And while much work is still needed to advance techniques aimed at characterizingepigenetic marks, if the methodological advances detailed in 2012 are anyindication, interesting new epigenetics findings should pop up in our news sectionthroughout 2013. 

Keywords:  2012 year in review