14 October 2010
The project aims to map and annotate the human epigenome, and to identify which particular epigenetic states – changes in the regulation of gene activity that are not dependent on DNA sequence - contribute to disease. The work is being carried out by a consortium of US research institutions that have divided the work of mapping four major forms of epigenetic gene regulation - DNA methylation, histone modifications, chromatin accessibility and RNA transcription - within three tissue types: stem cells, developing tissue, and adult tissues and cells.
The newly-published data maps hundreds of epigenetic changes in dozens of tissue types, and marks a significant milestone in the project, which is due to run for a further five years. The usefulness of the project in tackling disease has not gone unquestioned though; some are unconvinced by an approach that generates enormous amounts of data without reference to specific biological questions. However, the next phase of the project, and the bulk of its budget, provides grants to individual researchers who will use the data to investigate specific diseases.