“The term epigenetics was coined even before the discovery of the structure of DNA – but our understanding of how epigenetics influences health and disease lags behind genetics.
“Genetics is the study of how traits are passed from one generation to the next through DNA, whereas epigenetics involves changes on top of DNA which influence traits. These changes alter how the DNA is read, which is why cells have the same instructions but different functions. If DNA is the book, epigenetics are marks made over time on the pages which help to interpret what the words mean.
“Cancer was one of the first diseases to be linked to epigenetic changes, and we are now learning how important they are in cancer cells that evade treatment. Besides cancer, a lot of epigenetic research has helped our understanding of ageing. We’re also now starting to see that some epigenetic changes can even be passed down generations, impacting the heritability of common diseases.
“New technologies are being produced which can tell us information about the genetic and epigenetic changes at the same time and hopefully give us more understanding about diseases. What will also be important is understanding how epigenetic modifications all interact with each other.”