Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Random acts of ill-health   posted by Razib @ 1/05/2010 01:49:00 PM

Stochastic epigenetic variation as a driving force of development, evolutionary adaptation, and disease:
Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory is based on exquisite selection of phenotypes caused by small genetic variations, which is the basis of quantitative trait contribution to phenotype and disease. Epigenetics is the study of nonsequence-based changes, such as DNA methylation, heritable during cell division. Previous attempts to incorporate epigenetics into evolutionary thinking have focused on Lamarckian inheritance, that is, environmentally directed epigenetic changes. Here, we propose a new non-Lamarckian theory for a role of epigenetics in evolution. We suggest that genetic variants that do not change the mean phenotype could change the variability of phenotype; and this could be mediated epigenetically. This inherited stochastic variation model would provide a mechanism to explain an epigenetic role of developmental biology in selectable phenotypic variation, as well as the largely unexplained heritable genetic variation underlying common complex disease. We provide two experimental results as proof of principle. The first result is direct evidence for stochastic epigenetic variation, identifying highly variably DNA-methylated regions in mouse and human liver and mouse brain, associated with development and morphogenesis. The second is a heritable genetic mechanism for variable methylation, namely the loss or gain of CpG dinucleotides over evolutionary time. Finally, we model genetically inherited stochastic variation in evolution, showing that it provides a powerful mechanism for evolutionary adaptation in changing environments that can be mediated epigenetically. These data suggest that genetically inherited propensity to phenotypic variability, even with no change in the mean phenotype, substantially increases fitness while increasing the disease susceptibility of a population with a changing environment.

Why you? Because.