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Genetics. 2010 Apr;184(4):1037-50. doi: 10.1534/genetics.109.112466. Epub 2010 Jan 25.

Epigenetic contribution to covariance between relatives.

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  • 1The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Recent research has pointed to the ubiquity and abundance of between-generation epigenetic inheritance. This research has implications for assessing disease risk and the responses to ecological stresses and also for understanding evolutionary dynamics. An important step toward a general evaluation of these implications is the identification and estimation of the amount of heritable, epigenetic variation in populations. While methods for modeling the phenotypic heritable variance contributed by culture have already been developed, there are no comparable methods for nonbehavioral epigenetic inheritance systems. By introducing a model that takes epigenetic transmissibility (the probability of transmission of ancestral phenotypes) and environmental induction into account, we provide novel expressions for covariances between relatives. We have combined a classical quantitative genetics approach with information about the number of opportunities for epigenetic reset between generations and assumptions about environmental induction to estimate the heritable epigenetic variance and epigenetic transmissibility for both asexual and sexual populations. This assists us in the identification of phenotypes and populations in which epigenetic transmission occurs and enables a preliminary quantification of their transmissibility, which could then be followed by genomewide association and QTL studies.

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