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The last few decades of the 20th century witnessed a remarkable contribution of twins to the genetic studies of human complex traits and diseases. By modelling phenotypic covariance in identical and fraternal twins and assuming equal sharing of rearing environment, the classical twin design is able to decompose observed phenotype variation into genetic (additive, dominant) and environmental (common and unique) components. With the recent rapid development in modern biotechnology for high-throughput genetic and genomic analysis, twin modelling is expanding from analysis of disease phenotype to molecular phenotypes in functional genomics, especially in epigenetics, a thriving field of research that concerns the environmental regulation of gene expression activity through DNA methylation, histone modification, microRNA and long non-coding RNA expression, etc. New application of the twin method to molecular phenotypes offers new opportunity to study the genetic (nature) and environmental (nurture) contributions to epigenetic regulation of gene activity during developmental, aging and disease processes. Besides classical twin modelling, the discordant twin design using identical twins discordant for a trait or disease is becoming a popular and most powerful design for epigenome-wide association study in linking environmental exposure to differential epigenetic profiles and to disease status while controlling for individual genetic make-ups. It can be expected that novel uses of twins in epigenetic studies are going to help with efficiently unravelling the genetic and environmental basis in epigenetic modification unmatched by other designs.
1. apr. 2014
JEB Symposium 2014: Epigenetics in Comparative Physiology