The deciphering of the human genome sequence has helped our understanding of biological processes in health and diseases. However, the way in which the genomic information is organized within the cell, through epigenetic processes, is known to play a major role in regulating gene expression and in controlling specific cellular functions. Epigenetics and epigenomics research explores those processes. They go beyond DNA-stored information and are essential for packaging and interpreting the genome, are fundamental to normal development and cell differentiation, and are increasingly recognized as being involved in human disease.
Mis-steps in epigenomic programming have been directly implicated in common human diseases such as diabetes, inflammation, cancer as well as in ageing. Importantly, epigenomic changes are potentially reversible by drug treatments. This has significant implications for the prevention and treatment of these major human diseases with regenerative medicine as a very promising clinical approach. Hence, it will be important to have reference epigenome maps of all relevant human cell types to evaluate the importance and the consequences of these epigenetic changes as well as their impact on health.
Differences in epigenetic profiles are known to be induced by environmental and nutrition changes, so that maps for reference epigenomes will greatly broaden our understanding of how the environment and nutrition will modulate epigenetic alterations. This new, non DNA-based, knowledge will have a major impact for novel avenues in preventing and diagnosing major human diseases.
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