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BC scientists play major role in international effort to map the human epigenome

BC scientists and their colleagues from across the globe have made a major leap forward in understanding how the human body’s trillions of cells develop from a single genetic template, and how those genes interact with the environment. A collection of 41 coordinated papers has been published by scientists involved in the International Human Epigenome Research Consortium (IHEC) which shed light on epigenomic processes.

One of the great mysteries in biology is how the many different cell types that make up our bodies are derived from a single cell and from one DNA sequence, or genome. We have learned a lot from studying the human genome, but have only partially unveiled the processes underlying cell determination. The identity of each cell type is largely defined by an instructive layer of molecular annotations on top of the genome – the epigenome – which acts as a blueprint unique to each cell type and developmental stage. 

Unlike the genome the epigenome changes as cells develop and in response to changes in the environment. Defects in the factors that read, write and erase the epigenetic blueprint are involved in many diseases. The comprehensive analysis of the epigenomes of healthy and abnormal cells will facilitate new ways to diagnose and treat various diseases, and ultimately lead to improved health outcomes.
This collection of 41 publications showcases the achievements and scientific progress made by IHEC in core areas of current epigenetic investigations. These papers represent the most recent work of IHEC member projects from Canada, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Singapore and the United States. The Canadian contribution to the project is coordinated through the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC)
“This trio of manuscripts provides important insights into how epigenetic information is encoded during normal human development and how it becomes deregulated in disease,” said Dr. Martin Hirst. “While the data and analysis represent significant advancements in their own right, the findings are much more significant when integrated within a global effort to understand the role of epigenetics in complex human disease.”
All DNA sequencing work for these three papers was performed by the two British Columbia CEEHRC Platform Centres: the Centre for Epigenome Mapping Technologies, led by Drs. Hirst and Marco Marra, and the Epigenomic Data Coordination Centre, led by Dr. Steven Jones of the BC Cancer Agency, SFU and UBC. The CEEHRC is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Genome Canada and Genome BC.
Page last modified Feb 21, 2017