DNA can't explain all inherited biological traits, research shows

April 02, 2015

Characteristics passed between generations are not decided solely by DNA, but can be brought about by other material in cells, new research shows.

Scientists studied proteins found in cells, known as histones, which are not part of the genetic code, but act as spools around which DNA is wound. Histones are known to control whether or not genes are switched on.

Researchers found that naturally occurring changes to these proteins, which affect how they control genes, can be sustained from one generation to the next and so influence which traits are passed on.

The finding demonstrates for the first time that DNA is not solely responsible for how characteristics are inherited. It paves the way for research into how and when this method of inheritance occurs in nature, and if it is linked to particular traits or health conditions.

It may also inform research into whether changes to the histone proteins that are caused by environmental conditions - such as stress or diet - can influence the function of genes passed on to offspring.

The research confirms a long-held expectation among scientists that genes could be controlled across generations by such changes. However, it remains to be seen how common the process is, researchers say.

Scientists tested the theory by carrying out experiments in a yeast with similar gene control mechanisms to human cells. They introduced changes to a histone protein, mimicking those that occur naturally, causing it to switch off nearby genes. The effect was inherited by subsequent generations of yeast cells.

The study, published in Science, was supported by the Wellcome Trust and the EC EpiGeneSys Network.

Professor Robin Allshire, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "We've shown without doubt that changes in the histone spools that make up chromosomes can be copied and passed through generations. Our finding settles the idea that inherited traits can be epigenetic, meaning that they are not solely down to changes in a gene's DNA."
-end-


University of Edinburgh

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.