the study of the chemical modification of specific genes or gene-associated proteins of an organism. Epigenetic modifications can define how the information in genes is expressed and used by cells. The term epigenetics came into general use in the early 1940s, when British embryologist Conrad Waddington used it to describe the interactions between genes and gene products, which direct development and give rise to an organism's phenotype (observable characteristics). Since then, information revealed by epigenetics studies has revolutionized the fields of genetics and developmental biology. Specifically, researchers have uncovered a range of possible chemical modifications to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and to proteins called histones that associate tightly with DNA in the nucleus. These modifications can determine when or even if a given gene is expressed in a cell or organism.
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