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Fundamental research

20 - 06 - 2018

From the fungus to the human through to the fly, epigenetics animates the genome

Basic research on epigenetics shows the unity of life and is source for new therapeutic pathways.
Epigenetics is the field that studies the regulation of gene expression. In 1947, the first protein with epigenetic activity was identified in the fly.
It is part of a group of proteins called Polycomb, which acts in opposition to a second group of proteins named Trithorax. These proteins exist in fungi, plants and animals. They ensure among other things the proper arrangement of organs during development.
Today Polycomb proteins are the subject of much research for example in the field of stem cells.
These proteins have an antitumor action, including in human cells in culture.
The transcription (ie the expression) of two-thirds of the twenty-thousand or so genes in our genome is controlled by a system in which Polycomb participates.


The great therapeutic interest of epigenetics lies in the fact that it acts on the expression of genes without causing mutation, which makes it easily reversible. In the field of cancer, a polycomb protein could in fact neutralize mutated genes causing tumors.
However, many fundamental studies are still needed before we are able to master the use of epigenetic drugs.