Two dozen scientific papers published online simultaneously on Feb. 18, 2015 present the first comprehensive maps and analyses of the epigenomes of a wide array of human cell and tissue types. Epigenomes are patterns of chemical annotations to the genome that determine whether, how, and when genes are activated. Because epigenomes orchestrate normal development of the body, and disruptions in epigenetic control are known to be involved in a wide range of disorders, from cancer to autism to heart disease, the massive trove of data is expected to yield many new insights into human biology in both health and disease. The 24 papers describing human epigenomes will appear in print on Feb. 19, 2015 in the journal Nature and in six other journals under the aegis of Nature Publishing Group. Collectively, the papers are a culmination of years of research by hundreds of participants in the Roadmap Epigenomics Program (REP), first proposed in 2006 by academic scientists and key members of the National Institutes of Health. All will be freely available at Nature's Epigenome Roadmap website. "The DNA sequence of the human genome is identical in all cells of the body, but cell types--such as heart, brain, or skin cells--have unique characteristics and are uniquely susceptible to various diseases," said University of California, San Francisco's (UCSF’s) Joseph F. Costello, Ph.D., director of one of the four NIH Roadmap Epigenome Mapping Centers (REMC) that contributed data to the REP. "By guiding how genes are expressed, epigenomes allow cells carrying the same DNA to differentiate into the more than 200 types found in the human body." In cancer research, said Dr. Costello, the new data will hasten a merging of genomic and epigenomic perspectives that was already underway.
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