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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2006 Dec;16(6):573-7. Epub 2006 Sep 26.

Epigenetic variation and inheritance in mammals.

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Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1SA, UK.


What determines phenotype is one of the most fundamental questions in biology. Historically, the search for answers had focused on genetic or environmental variants, but recent studies in epigenetics have revealed a third mechanism that can influence phenotypic outcomes, even in the absence of genetic or environmental heterogeneity. Even more surprisingly, some epigenetic variants, or epialleles, can be inherited by the offspring, indicating the existence of a mechanism for biological heredity that is not based on DNA sequence. Recent work from mouse models, human monozygotic twin studies, and large-scale epigenetic profiling suggests that epigenetically determined phenotypes and epigenetic inheritance are more common than previously appreciated.

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