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Toxicol Mech Methods. 2011 May;21(4):252-74. doi: 10.3109/15376516.2011.559695.

From Waddington's epigenetic landscape to small noncoding RNA: some important milestones in the history of epigenetics research.

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U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Division of Biotechnology and GRAS Notice Review, Office of Food Additive Safety, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, College Park, MD 20740, USA.


The term epigenetics was coined in 1942 by C.H. Waddington in the context of studies on development. Since then, the meaning of epigenetics changed over time. In the beginning, epigenetics was viewed as a phenomenon above and beyond genetics. Epigenetic explanations were invoked when genetics could not explain a phenomenon. From the mid-seventies, the state of understanding started changing. Epigenetics has now morphed from a phenomenon to a branch of science whose molecular underpinnings are well understood. The current state of knowledge of epigenetics has evolved as our understanding of DNA methylation, chromatin modifications, and noncoding RNA, and their effects on gene expression increased. At this time in the annals of epigentics research, it is appropriate to revisit some of the important discoveries that have helped advance the field to its current state. This is a very brief review of some early discoveries, and by no means is a complete account of the history of epigenetics. In this review, the early history has also been emphasized in order to underscore the transformation of the science of epigenetics from a phenomenon to a modern field of intense research.

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