Open Position in Epigenetics at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

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Dr. Janet Partridge, an assistant member in the biochemistry department of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, has notified us of an opening for a postdoctoral fellow/research technician in her lab.

    A highly motivated, hard-working individual required to help drive genetic and biochemical experiments working on the RNAi pathway and heterochromatin assembly in the fission yeast. Experience desired in molecular biology, biochemistry and yeast genetics, plus a keen interest in biology.

    This position may be filled either by a postdoctoral scientist or by a research technician, thus the requirements span Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an appropriate field through to Ph.D. Experience in yeast genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry is desired.

    St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, USA provides state of the art resources, an interactive and intellectually stimulating environment, and was recently voted the #1 place to work in academia by the Scientist Magazine.

    Postdoctoral candidates should contact me directly for more information (, including a resume, a 1 page summary of your research experience and aspirations, and the names and e-mail addresses of 3 academic referees.

    Research Technologist candidates should visit the website at (Biochemistry Dept. Job # 13884).

    St. Jude is an Equal Opportunity Employer and drug free workplace.

Epigenetics May Hold Promise for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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A recent article in The New Zealand Herald reports on research investigating the cause of a common childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Dr. Ian Morison, curator of the Imprinted Gene and Parent-of-origin Effects Database at Otago University, “is trying to pinpoint the exact period between conception and birth when leukaemic cells start to develop, and to better understand what genetic factors make that happen.” Dr. Morison is attempting to pin down why rates of leukemia have increased in recent years.

    “There seems to be something about modern life, but that doesn’t mean it’s cellphone towers – it could equally be the nutrition of the mum. It could be any one of a thousand factors we hadn’t thought of.”

    Epigenetics is a promising new area of interest.

    Traditionally, cancers were thought to be caused by gene mutations.

    “A mutation can affect just a single letter of DNA and disrupt a very important gene that puts brakes on a cell, controlling the cell’s growth,” said Dr Morison. “It’s like if a cable breaks on the handbrake of a car.”

    Otago’s Cancer Genetics Laboratory is looking at epigenetic changes, which modify cell function without mutation taking place.


Science and the Internet: The Pew Report

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The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a new report on how the Internet is used by Americans as a resource for news and information about science. The report’s key findings:

  • 40 million Americans rely on the internet as their primary source for news and information about science.
  • For home broadband users, the internet and television are equally popular as sources for science news and information – and the internet leads the way for young broadband users.
  • The internet is the source to which people would turn first if they need information on a specific scientific topic.
  • The internet is a research tool for 87% of online users. That translates to 128 million adults.
  • Consumers of online science information are fact-checkers of scientific claims. Sometimes they use the internet for this, other times they use offline sources.
  • Convenience plays a large role in drawing people to the internet for science information.
  • Happenstance also plays a role in users’ experience with online science resources. Two-thirds of internet users say they have come upon news and information about science when they went online for another reason.
  • Those who seek out science news or information on the internet are more likely than others to believe that scientific pursuits have a positive impact on society.
  • Internet users who have sought science information online are more likely to report that they have higher levels of understanding of science.
  • Between 40% and 50% of internet users say they get information about a specific topic using the internet or through email.
  • Search engines are far and away the most popular source for beginning science research among users who say they would turn first to the internet to get more information about a specific topic.
  • Half of all internet users have been to a website which specializes in scientific content.
  • Fully 59% of Americans have been to a science museum in the past year.
  • Science websites and science museums may serve effectively as portals to one another.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project “produces reports that explore the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through collection of data and analysis of real-world developments as they affect the virtual world.” (source: A Blog Around the Clock) Link

New Research: Epigenetic Transgenerational Adult-Onset Disease

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New research from the laboratory of Dr. Michael Skinner at Washington State University shows that the endocrine disruptor vinclozolin, a fungicide used in agricultural crops such as grapes grown for the wine industry, can induce adult-onset diseases in the offspring of an exposed pregnant female rat such as prostate disease, kidney disease, immune system abnormalities, and tumor development that remain highly prevalent in four generations of offspring.

The December issue of the journal Endocrinology contains two articles related to the studies in the lab of Dr. Skinner, including “Endocrine Disruptor Vinclozolin Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Adult-Onset Disease” by Anway et. al and “Epigenetic Imprinting of the Male Germ-Line by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure During Gonadal Sex Determination” by Chang et. al. These research articles provide further insights into the phenomenon first described in the June 2005 issue of Science, “Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors and Male Fertility.”

    The fetal basis of adult disease is poorly understood on a molecular level and cannot be solely attributed to genetic mutations or a single etiology. Embryonic exposure to environmental compounds has been shown to promote various disease states or lesions in the first generation (F1). The current study used the endocrine disruptor vinclozolin (antiandrogenic compound) in a transient embryonic exposure at the time of gonadal sex determination in rats. Adult animals from the F1 generation and all subsequent generations examined (F1–F4) developed a number of disease states or tissue abnormalities including prostate disease, kidney disease, immune system abnormalities, testis abnormalities, and tumor development (e.g. breast). In addition, a number of blood abnormalities developed including hypercholesterolemia. The incidence or prevalence of these transgenerational disease states was high and consistent across all generations (F1–F4) and, based on data from a previous study, appears to be due in part to epigenetic alterations in the male germ line. The observations demonstrate that an environmental compound, endocrine disruptor, can induce transgenerational disease states or abnormalities, and this suggests a potential epigenetic etiology and molecular basis of adult onset disease.
While one research article explores the disease prevalence across four generations of offspring after a single exposure to a pregnant female rat, the other characterizes specific genes and non-coding regions that exhibit altered methylation profiles in F2 and F3 generation males.
    Embryonic exposure to the endocrine disruptor vinclozolin at the time of gonadal sex determination was previously found to promote transgenerational disease states. The actions of vinclozolin appear to be due to epigenetic alterations in the male germline that are transmitted to subsequent generations. Analysis of the transgenerational epigenetic effects on the male germline (i.e. sperm) identified 25 candidate DNA sequences with altered methylation patterns in the vinclozolin generation sperm. These sequences were identified and mapped to specific genes and noncoding DNA regions. Bisulfite sequencing was used to confirm the altered methylation pattern of 15 of the candidate DNA sequences. Alterations in the epigenetic pattern (i.e. methylation) of these genes/DNA sequences were found in the F2 and F3 generation germline. Therefore, the reprogramming of the male germline involves the induction of new imprinted-like genes/DNA sequences that acquire an apparent permanent DNA methylation pattern that is passed at least through the paternal allele. The expression pattern of several of the genes during embryonic development were found to be altered in the vinclozolin F1 and F2 generation testis. A number of the imprinted-like genes/DNA sequences identified are associated with epigenetic linked diseases. In summary, an endocrine disruptor exposure during embryonic gonadal sex determination was found to promote an alteration in the epigenetic (i.e. induction of imprinted-like genes/DNA sequences) programming of the male germline, and this is associated with the development of transgenerational disease states.
This research has a number of potential implications:
  • Disease etiology and development mechanisms could involve this epigenetic transgenerational phenomenon and be a factor in disease development that is not currently not understood. What aspects of disease are due to DNA sequence mutations versus epigenetics involving chemical modification of the DNA?
  • Since this is an environmental effect that is multigenerational, it could explain why different sub-populations in different regions may develop different diseases.
  • This new phenomena may provide alternate approaches for disease diagnosis and therapy.
  • The influence of environmental toxicant exposures on disease development for offspring of exposed pregnant mothers needs to be further explored.
Disclosure: The publisher of Epigenetics News is a member of the laboratory involved in this research. No information related to this research that has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal is contained in this article.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’d like to wish a safe and happy Thanksgiving to our American readers.

Also, here are a couple links that you may be interested in:

  • Tangled Bank #67: Giving thanks for science. Newton’s Biounium hosts the new edition of the Web’s best science writing from around the blogosphere. Among the highlights is a post discussing some current trends with NIH grant funding.
  • The Nurture of Things. The McGill Headway highlights the epigenetics research of Moshe Szyf and Michael Meaney at McGill University.

Call for Epigenetics Labs

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Judging from some of the e-mails that I’ve received, a portion of our readers are quite interested in epigenetics because their own research is in this exciting field. I’ve decided to start a list of research lab Web sites that focus on epigenetics research. You’ll notice that the list to the right is short at this point, with only a handful of some of the labs that are currently working in epigenetics.

It would be great to have a more comprehensive list of the epigenetics researchers out there. There would be numerous benefits to composing a list of epigenetics researchers, such as:

  • Graduate school applicants or postdoctoral researchers interested in epigenetics could have a starting point for finding a research lab that fits with their research interests;
  • Researchers would have a resource for easily connecting with peers in the epigenetics field;
  • Increased visibility and exposure for your research and, ultimately, the field of epigenetics.
If your lab is working in epigenetics and has a Web site, please drop me an e-mail:, or leave a comment to this post.

Breath Test Used to Detect DNA Methylation

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Researchers at the Wadsworth Center, the public health laboratory of the New York State Department of Health, have shown it is technically feasible to detect DNA methylation using a simple breath test. Dr. Weiguo Han and Dr. Simon D. Spivack have tested seven patients by having them breath into a handheld device for 10 minutes, which forms a condensed vapor, to which the methylation assay is applied. The methylated form of all six tumor suppressor genes could be detected using the simple breath test.

    The DNA is believed to be released when cells turn over, or are damaged, in the lungs and airways, he said. “Although it is not possible to say at this point the precise anatomic origin of the airway-derived DNA being tested, it may be that different patterns of gene methylation will themselves actually map the origin of this DNA to particular regions of the airway,” Spivack said.

The researchers hope that the test can be further developed into a non-invasive test for the early detection of lung cancer. Link

Declining Rates of Fertility and Epigenetics Research

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The Focus article in the November 2006 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, entitled “Fertile Grounds for Inquiry: Environmental Effects on Human Reproduction,” is an interesting read for those interested in the reproductive effects of environmental toxicants and epigenetics.

    At a time when at least 80 million people worldwide are estimated to be affected by infertility, scientists are starting to look closely at how exposures to environmental substances may affect the ability of a couple to achieve a healthy pregnancy. Studies of wildlife and laboratory animals are helping to pin down how exposure to chemicals such as endocrine disruptors affects reproductive development, while human studies are looking at genetic effects, the effects of multicompound exposures, and the potential contribution of agricultural pesticides and persistent organic pollutants to problems such as low sperm counts and altered sex ratios. However, a thorough exploration of environmental effects on fertility will require the expertise of many different disciplines.
The article explores the issues of reducing fertility in both Europe and the United States, and offers commentary from researchers exploring the link between environmental toxicants and reduced fertility. It also introduces the field of epigenetics as an approach to linking the exposures of previous generations to the declining fertility of couples today, as was suggested by the 2005 Science paper “Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors and Male Fertility.”

This paper came out of the lab of Dr. Michael Skinner, and two follow-up papers were recently published in the journal Endocrinology, which will be reviewed here in the near future. Link

Review of New Paid Reviewing System

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Note: The following is a paid review.

ReviewMe is a new service that offers bloggers an opportunity to receive paid offers from advertisers to review a Web site on their blog. I decided to give the service a try because there are some clear-cut rules that must be adhered to when a blogger accepts a paid review offer from an advertiser.

For instance, the review must be identified as a paid review. As you may see at the top of this post, there is no confusion that it is a paid review. However, advertisers are told up-front that they may not stipulate that a review be positive. That means that I’m free to review the site honestly and openly criticize a site as I see fit. I don’t see any problem with this kind of service when both of these guidelines are in place.

The real benefit to advertisers for this service is that rather than being placed as an ad on a site, your site will be linked as part of the “normal” content of the blog. That means that your Web site will show up in the RSS feed, for example, and the review of the site will likely be indexed by Google. The review will also contain a link to your site, and the backlink may provide a boost to your own page ranking at Google.

Based upon this site’s Technorati ranking and other criteria, the price that the site is asking for a paid review at Epigenetics News is US$60. The “ranking” of this site will be monitored over time and the price will be adjusted as needed.

ReviewMe will not accept all bloggers that apply, but right now they have set aside $25,000 to give to those that sign up, are accepted, and review their service on their blog. Link

Discover Magazine Highlights Epigenetics

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The November issue of Discover Magazine features the cover story “DNA Is Not Destiny,” by Ethan Watters, highlighting some of the most provocative discoveries in epigenetics over the past several years and what they may mean to human health and development.

For instance, the article highlights the research of Duke University radiation oncologist Randy Jirtle and former postdoctoral student Robert Waterland, who showed that nutritional changes to an agouti female mouse can alter the phenotype of her offspring through an alteration in DNA methylation (1).

Other researchers highlighted include Moshe Szyf and Michael Meaney of McGill University, Emma Whitelaw of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Ming Zhu Fang of Rutgers University, Michael Skinner of Washington State University, and Marcus Pembrey of the Institute of Child Health in London.

Hopefully, the article will provide an informative overview of the exciting field of epigenetics to scientists, students, and the general public.

1. Waterland RA, Jirtle RL. Transposable elements: targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation. Mol Cell Biol. 2003;15;5293-300.

New Related Posts Feature

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I wanted to call reader attention to a new feature I just added on individual post pages that provides links to related articles at Epigenetics News. This should be helpful in finding past posts related to the topic that you’re currently reading about. This feature was added via a nice plug-in from WASABI, WordPress Related Entries. For other WordPress blog owners out there who are interested, it took about 3 minutes to install, so you want want to give it a shot.

Epigenomics To Focus On Late Stage Product Development

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Epigenomics, the molecular diagnostic company using methylation biomarkers to develop clinical tests for the early detection of various cancers, has recently made several announcements:

  • On October 26, the company announced that it would shift its focus primarily to late stage product development. “To maximize its future growth potential and to enforce financial discipline, Epigenomics will focus its product development efforts entirely on later-stage programs in oncology, which are the company’s key value drivers and greatest commercial opportunities.” The company also noted that as part of this shift in focus, it would lay off approximately one-third of its Berlin office staff. Its Seattle office would be unaffected.
  • On November 2, the company reported its third quarter 2006 earnings.
  • In addition, the company’s research paper chronicling the DNA methylation profile of human chromosomes 6, 20, and 22, as part of the Human Epigenome Project, was published online ahead of print at Nature Genetics.