From medicalxpress.com | November 2, 2015
Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center have discovered a new species which is helping them understand epigenetics: all individuals of the marbled crayfish examined so far have been female. They reproduce by parthenogenesis, the unfertilized ovum develops directly into a new individual, and possess completely identical genetic makeup. Differences between individuals must therefore result from epigenetics. Cancer too can also have epigenetic causes, which makes the marbled crayfish an interesting model for cancer research.
Frank Lyko, scientist at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg has a keen interest in epigenetics. Unlike genetics where a fault in the genetic makeup will cause a gene to deliver the wrong product, occur multiple times or be missing completely, epigenetics is concerned with tiny changes in the genetic material which cause a gene to be more or less active. This is crucial for organisms to adapt to new environmental conditions such as diet, population density or temperature.
“Epigenetic factors may also influence cancer risk and play a role in the clinical development of the disease,” says Lyko. For example, colleagues at DKFZ have recently shown that epigenetics plays a major role in medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour in children (DKFZ PM Nr. 30/2014). Lyko explains that, “in order to understand the basics of epigenetics, we need models. The usual mouse and rat models typically used by cancer scientists are less useful for this purpose.” Time to look elsewhere.
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