Brussels, 09 Oct 2003
Following the successful completion of an EU pilot project investigating links between genetics and disease, German and UK consortium partners have announced that they are to continue the project's work by launching a full scale and unprecedented examination of the complex chemical processes that control gene expression.
The human epigenome project (HEP) received 1.2 million funding under the quality of life and management of living resources (LIFE QUALITY) programme of the Fifth Framework Programme. The project focused on DNA methylation, a chemical process which is responsible for switching genes on and off in cells, thus determining which genes are used in cells.
DNA methylation is considered to be essential to the normal development and functioning of organisms. However, it is also believed that methylation plays a role in the development of diseases such as cancer. To investigate this further, the project consortium examined methylation patterns within the major histocompatibility complex, a region of chromosome six that is associated with more diseases than any other region in the human genome. =
The methylation status of well over 100,000 sites has been determined, revealing major differences in the way methylation regulates the same genes in different tissues. Scientists will now collate this data with a view to examining methylation patterns on other sites in the human genome.
By better understanding how and when genes are switched on or off, the project is expected to provide the crucial link between genetics and diseases. 'The mapping of all DNA methylation sites promises a better understanding of the biological basis of disease and may allow diagnosis at a much earlier stage,' said Kurt Berlin, chief scientific officer of the German project partner, Epigenomics.
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