Epigenetics (pronounced ep-i-juh-NET-iks) and developmental epigenetics are fields of study that examine how environmental or developmental processes can alter the effects of a person’s genes without actually changing the sequence of the gene’s DNA itself. Epigenetic factors can change how genes are expressed—the way a gene’s information is used in the cells of the body—and thus affect human health and disease. Some epigenetic changes last only through a few cell divisions, while others last long enough to be passed from parent to child. The NICHD is one of many federal agencies and NIH institutes working to understand how epigenetics and developmental epigenetics are involved in certain diseases and health conditions.
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