“Epigenetics” refers to mechanisms of gene expression regulation that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. At least three systems including DNA methylation, histone modifications and non-coding RNAs (ncRNA) are considered to play fundamental roles in epigenetic regulation.
This is an excerpts from a publication titled: Why is epigenetics important in understanding the pathogenesis of inflammatory musculoskeletal diseases? By Udo Oppermann (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672786/)
“Doubtlessly, the field of epigenetics has rapidly evolved over the last decades-a quick literature survey shows 18 PubMed entries for 1975 to 1995, >400 entries for the following 10 years and >2,000 entries from 2006 to 2010.”
So the field is growing in importance and the author continues to say that
“…gene associations have thus far failed to explain the heterogeneity of clinical features and response to targeted therapies across patient subgroups. This concept of missing heritability might be (at least in part) explained by several mechanisms such as unmapped common variants, rare variants, gene-gene interaction or, not unlikely, epigenetic mechanisms.”
So how did the study of epigenetics grow in importance from a clinical perspective? The article titled “The Key role of epigenetics in human disease prevention and mitigation” published in The New England Journal of Medicine, in April of 2018 by Andrew P. Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H states:
“A major change in epigenetic thinking came from the realization that the environment has a profound effect on developmental plasticity, particularly with aging and susceptibility to common disease.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1402513
I would add that the emergence and availability of epigenomic data has also contributed significantly to our interest. Epigenomic data is different from epigenetics in the sense that it is the study of the whole epigenome by the way of untargeted high throughput data. Epigenomic data, powered by advances in next generation sequencing technology, has seen a dramatic reduction in price and increased quality. Protocols like chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP-seq) and Bisulfite sequencing allow us to study DNA methylation and chromatin modification with unprecedented accuracy. Special protocols for microRNA sequencing are providing us with a glimpse into the role non coding RNAs play in gene transcription and expression regulation.
With the emergence of these data types and projects, biologists need to get hands-on experience analyzing this sort of data. That’s why we are releasing a series of courses with practical examples that do not require coding.
After all, these courses are not for the technical bioinformaticians to learn about a new approach, they are for the majority of biologists that still rely on outsourced resources to analyze data.