A global team of researchers has established a new epigenetic map of 2,100 cell types
The Human Genome Project may have begun the daunting task of mapping human genes, but we're far from understanding their function and regulation. Unravelling and recording the epigenome, the complex regulatory mechanisms controlling each cell's behaviour and identity, is key to understanding to fully our biology. Epigenetic mechanisms include enzymes that modify DNA and the proteins that DNA is wound around, degrade DNA or enhance gene expression. Your epigenome tells your cell which genes to express, repress, and to what degree.
Making a map of blood development
In an effort to map out these detailed instructions the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC) has released 41 papers on the field of epigenetics. The most recent of these is a study into DNA methylation in human blood cells, involving a wide European collaboration. DNA methylation is the attaching of chemical methyl groups, which perform a number of different functions but commonly silence expression. Through epigenome mapping technology this team mapped the methylation blueprint of blood development in blood stem cells that persists in their lineage.
The study outlines a map of the blood stem cell epigenome, down through the different cell types that form from each cell, like a family tree. The hope is that some of this information can be used to explain how leukaemia arises in some cases, and that it'll assist in the development of new attack routes.
"The epigenetic map of the human blood helps us understand how leukemia develops and which cells drive the disease. This is relevant to cancer diagnostics and personalized medicine, and it provides a compass for future efforts aiming to reprogram the epigenome of individual cells, for example by erasing critical epigenetic alterations from leukemia cells"
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