Identical twins have the same DNA, but are often quite different. Blood cells and skin cells contain identical DNA, yet they perform different functions in the body. The science attempting to understand how such differences occur is called epigenetics, and it is showing that humans and all other organisms are more than just the sum of their DNA.
That was the theme of the lecture by Dr. Donata Vercelli, M.D., in the University of Arizona College of Science’s “Genomics Now” series. Vercelli will repeat her lecture, entitled “Epigenetics: Why DNA is Not Our Destiny,” at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (April 10) in the ASA Great Room.
The lecture switches focus from DNA and genes to epigenetics, the interaction of genes with their environment. “Plasticity” is the word used by scientists to explain how identical genes can function differently when outside factors cause them to turn on or off.
Vercelli is a professor of Cell and Molecular Medicine, Associate Director of the Arizona Respiratory Center where she leads the Functional Genomics Laboratory, and is also the Director of the Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases. Her research focuses on the molecular, genetic, and epigenetic mechanisms that regulate allergic inflammation and asthma.
She is the lead researcher for one of the Arizona Respiratory Center and BIO5 Institute’s most fascinating research projects, an effort to find out why some children acquire immunity to complex diseases like asthma while others do not. Her goal is to extract lessons from the environment about how it has protected us in the distant past, and to learn how genetic variants interact with a child’s environment to provide immunity to certain diseases.
She will be available to answer questions at the end of the lecture.
Submitted by Marcia Neugebauer, Academy Village Volunteer