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Environ Mol Mutagen. 2011 Jan;52(1):1-11. doi: 10.1002/em.20590.

The hunt for the epiallele.

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The Blizard Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 2AT, United Kingdom.


Understanding the origin of phenotypic variation remains one of the principle challenges of contemporary biology. Recent genome-wide association studies have identified association between common genetic variants and complex phenotype; however, the minimal effect sizes observed in such studies highlight the potential for other causal factors to be involved in phenotypic variation. The epigenetic state of an organism (or 'epigenome') incorporates a landscape of complex and plastic molecular events that may underlie the 'missing link' that integrates genotype with phenotype. The nature of these processes has been the subject of intense scientific study over the recent years, and characterisation of epigenetic variation, in the form of 'epialleles', is providing fascinating insight into how the genome functions within a range of developmental processes, environments, and in states of health and disease. This review will discuss how and when mammalian epialleles may be generated and their interaction with genetic and environmental factors. We will outline how an epiallele has a variable relationship with phenotype, and how new technologies may be used for their detection and to facilitate an understanding of their contribution to phenotype. Finally, we will consider epialleles in population variation and their teleological role in evolution. variation and their teleological role in evolution.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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