Professor Ferdinand Molnar, from the Department of Biology of the School of Sciences and Humanities, jointly with Professor Carsten Carlberg of the University of Eastern Finland has recently published a textbook “Human Epigenetics: How Sciences Works” focusing on the role of epigenetics both in health and in disease. According to Springer, the book is the world’s first undergraduate textbook on epigenetics focusing entirely on humans.
“Epigenetics provides a molecular explanation for how our genome is connected with environmental signals”, the authors explain. They point out that most non-communicable human diseases have a genetic, inherited component as well as an epigenetic component, which is based on our lifestyle choices and environment.
Epigenetics refers to changes in gene function that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence, and that can be affected by external factors, such as our diet. In the cell nucleus, our genes are packed into chromatin, which is a complex of histone proteins and genomic DNA. Epigenetic mechanisms involve DNA methylation, histone modifications, and 3D chromatin organization.
“This means that the genetic predisposition for a disease can be counterbalanced by an appropriate healthy lifestyle that modulates the epigenome of the affected tissues. It is well known that there is a high level of individual responsibility for staying healthy, but a detailed understanding of epigenetics provides a molecular explanation for this life philosophy”.
The book discusses the central importance of epigenetics during embryogenesis and cellular differentiation as well as in the process of aging and the risk for the development of cancer. Moreover, the role of the epigenome as molecular storage of cellular events, not only in the brain but also in metabolic organs and in the immune system, is described. In this context, epigenetic effects on neurodegenerative diseases as well as autism, metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, and disorders based on a malfunctional immune system, such as autoimmunity, are discussed.
About the authors:
Carsten Carlberg is a Full Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio (Finland) where he works since 2000. He graduated in 1989 with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Free University Berlin (Germany). Prof. Carlberg had positions as a postdoc at Roche (Basel, Switzerland), a group leader at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and docent at the University of Düsseldorf (Germany). His work focuses on mechanisms of gene regulation by nuclear hormones, in particular on vitamin D. At present Prof. Carlberg has projects on epigenome-wide effects of vitamin D on the human immune system.
Ferdinand Molnár received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Kuopio (Kuopio, Finland) in 2006. He did his postdoctoral training in Structural Biology at the IGBMC (Illkirch, France). In 2008 he joined the School of Pharmacy at the University of Eastern Finland (Kuopio, Finland) studying nuclear receptor-ligand, −protein, and −DNA interactions. In 2018 he moved to Nazarbayev University where he holds an Associate Professor position at the Department of Biology of the School of Sciences and Humanities. Prof. Molnár’s interests are integrative structural biology and bioinformatics, eukaryotic transcriptional regulation in health and disease, and recombinant protein production.