The Biochemist Blog

Epigenetic tags for personalized diagnoses

By Sarah Kearns, University of Michigan, USA

There’s more to our genetics than what’s within our DNA code. Though the code itself is the basis for life, on its surface there are chemical alterations that change how it’s expressed. Because DNA’s structure is that of a helix, modifications either make it coil up or unwind where the unwound form allows for transcription. Epigenetics is the concept of chemical marks on DNA, or associated proteins that control gene activity, that act independently of the genetic code itself.

Environmental pharmacology: how safe is our chemical jungle?

By Christopher Connolly, University of Dundee

The human population has grown from 1 billion in the 1800’s, to 7 billion in 2012 and is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050. Feeding this burgeoning population, as cheaply as possible, has driven the global industrialisation of agriculture. Now large monocultures replace a diverse natural habitat. In so doing, the natural ecosystem balance has been damaged and we have opted for the easy solution – chemical warfare against pest species.

Epigenetics: past and present

By David Hornby, University of Sheffield

Forty years ago this month I sat in my first lecture, an intensive introduction to ‘University Chemistry’. This was partially tempered with an Integrated Biology course on Darwinian evolution. Maybe this ‘christening by fire’ gave me the strong view that all biochemists should be equally grounded in both of these subjects. I also remember being told at school that Darwin’s ideas were all about chance and selection, while Lamarck’s theory centred on inter-generational adaptation. Who hasn’t been told about Lamarck’s giraffes!