Major international study reports the impact of genetics on epigenetic factors
Press release issued: 9 September 2021
Understanding what causes epigenetic variation could be a step closer thanks to a new atlas of genetic effects on epigenetic factors. The atlas, which has been established by an international consortium led by the University of Bristol, will enable scientists to learn more about the mechanisms underpinning gene regulation.
Epigenetic variation exists but it is unclear what causes this variation – is it genetic or is it the environment? It is also unclear how genetic differences that occur between individuals’ impact on our epigenomes. The atlas of genetic effects on DNA methylation (DNAm), by the Genetics of DNA Methylation Consortium (GoDMC) of 50 universities and institutes and more than 150 scientists, including the University of Bristol, University of Exeter Medical School, King’s College London and Leiden University Medical Center.
The analysis focused on the natural differences between individuals in their DNAm levels across the genome. DNAm plays a central role in gene regulation. It helps to define how cells respond to environmental signals and, ultimately, contributes to health or susceptibility to disease. However, the amount and the effects of differences in DNAm from one person to another is poorly understood.
The newly developed database has been used to search for instances of DNAm sites causally relating to 100 clinical characteristics and diseases. Vice versa, the study estimated the causal influences of these clinical characteristics and diseases on DNAm levels across the genome. These comparisons highlight that DNAm is unlikely to have a big role in causing disease but open the door to a range of further research.
This study represents an enormous international effort to enhance our understanding of how our genomes are controlled and how they influence health and disease.
Paper: ‘Genomic and phenotypic insights from an atlas of genetic effects on DNA methylation’ by Josine L. Min, Gibran Hemani, Caroline L. Relton et al. in Nature Genetics