Each mammalian cell has the same genes, yet performs distinct functions. This is achieved by epigenetic control of gene expression; the switching on and switching off of genes. This course will cover the principles of epigenetic control of gene expression, how epigenetic control contributes to cellular differentiation and development, and how it goes wrong in disease.
While the human genome sequence has transformed our understanding of human biology, it isn’t just the sequence of your DNA that matters, but also how you use it! How are some genes activated and others are silenced? How is this controlled? The answer is epigenetics.
Epigenetics has been a hot topic for research over the past decade as it has become clear that aberrant epigenetic control contributes to disease (particularly to cancer). Epigenetic alterations are heritable through cell division, and in some instances are able to behave similarly to mutations in terms of their stability. Importantly, unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic modifications are reversible and therefore have the potential to be manipulated therapeutically. It has also become clear in recent years that epigenetic modifications are sensitive to the environment (for example diet), which has sparked a large amount of public debate and research.
This course will give an introduction to the fundamentals of epigenetic control. We will examine epigenetic phenomena that are manifestations of epigenetic control in several organisms, with a focus on mammals. We will examine the interplay between epigenetic control and the environment and finally the role of aberrant epigenetic control in disease.
Introduction to epigenetics
Epigenetic modifications and their function in regulating gene expression and chromosome structure
DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, histone variants, chromatin structure, noncoding RNAs and 3D organisation of the nucleus
Epigenetic phenomena in lower organisms
Position effect variegation, dosage compensation, paramutation
Epigenetic reprogramming, genomic imprinting, X inactivation
Epigenetic deregulation in disease
Rett syndrome, ICF syndrome, Imprinting disorders, cancer
Epigenetics and the environment (diet, maternal environment, maternal care)
The Agouti viable yellow allele in mice, maternal care in rats, Dutch famine in humans
Some background in biology, and more specifically genetics is recommended. If you don't have a genetics background, or want to brush up on genetics before you start, you might like to consider taking one of these MOOCs before our course starts:
Introduction to Genetics and Evolution
Genes and The Human Condition (From Behaviour to Biotechnology):
Genomic Medicine gets Personal:
All necessary information will be covered in the lectures, and recommended and required readings will be provided. There are no additional required texts for this course.
For those interested, additional information can be obtained in the following textbook.
Epigenetics. Allis, Jenuwein, Reinberg and Caparros. Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Press. ISBN-13: 978-0879697242 | Edition: 1
This course will run for 8 weeks, comprising
7 weeks of short video lectures, weekly quizzes for weeks 1 to 6, one peer-assessed written assignment and discussion
groups. Please note that the written assignment is in short answer format, and an easy to follow marking scheme will be provided.
For this course, all you need is an Internet connection and the time to read, write, discuss, and enjoy some fascinating science.
You'll learn one possible explanation for why identical twins can look
different, and how a mother's diet might alter her grand-daughter's appearance!