Bioinformatics Education - Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression

 At 2014-03-18 02:01:05 AM  |   330

About the Course (

While the human genome sequence has transformed our understanding of human biology, it isn’t just the sequence of your DNA that matters, but also how you use it! How are some genes activated and others are silenced? How is this controlled? The answer is epigenetics.  

Epigenetics has been a hot topic for research over the past decade as it has become clear that aberrant epigenetic control contributes to disease (particularly to cancer). Epigenetic alterations are heritable through cell division, and in some instances are able to behave similarly to mutations in terms of their stability. Importantly, unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic modifications are reversible and therefore have the potential to be manipulated therapeutically. It has also become clear in recent years that epigenetic modifications are sensitive to the environment (for example diet), which has sparked a large amount of public debate and research.

This course will give an introduction to the fundamentals of epigenetic control. We will examine epigenetic phenomena that are manifestations of epigenetic control in several organisms, with a focus on mammals. We will examine the interplay between epigenetic control and the environment and finally the role of aberrant epigenetic control in disease.

Course Syllabus

Introduction to epigenetics

Epigenetic modifications and their function in regulating gene expression and chromosome structure

DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, histone variants, chromatin structure, noncoding RNAs and 3D organisation of the nucleus

Epigenetic phenomena in lower organisms

Position effect variegation, dosage compensation, paramutation

Mammalian epigenetics

Epigenetic reprogramming, genomic imprinting, X inactivation

Epigenetic deregulation in disease

Rett syndrome, ICF syndrome, Imprinting disorders, cancer

Epigenetics and the environment (diet, maternal environment, maternal care)

The Agouti viable yellow allele in mice, maternal care in rats, Dutch famine in humans

Recommended Background

Some background in biology, and more specifically genetics is recommended. If you don't have a genetics background, or want to brush up on genetics before you start, you might like to consider taking one of these MOOCs before our course starts:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution: starts January 3 2014 (12 weeks)

Genes and The Human Condition (From Behaviour to Biotechnology): starts November 4 2013 (6 weeks) 

Useful Genetics: starts November 1 2013 (6 weeks) 

Genomic Medicine gets Personal: starts March 4 2014 (8 weeks) 

Introduction to Biology - The Secret of Life: started September 10 2013 (14 weeks) - watch for next course offering 


Suggested Readings

All necessary information will be covered in the lectures, and recommended and required readings will be provided. There are no additional required texts for this course.

For those interested, additional information can be obtained in the following textbook.

Epigenetics. Allis, Jenuwein, Reinberg and Caparros. Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Press. ISBN-13: 978-0879697242 | Edition: 1

Course Format

This course will run for 8 weeks, comprising 7 weeks of short video lectures, weekly quizzes for weeks 1 to 6, one peer-assessed written assignment and discussion groups. Please note that the written assignment is in short answer format, and an easy to follow marking scheme will be provided.


  • What resources will I need for this class?

For this course, all you need is an Internet connection and the time to read, write, discuss, and enjoy some fascinating science.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

You'll learn one possible explanation for why identical twins can look different, and how a mother's diet might alter her grand-daughter's appearance!

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