ENCODE: Why it's important

A new understanding of how DNA works has come from a ground-breaking global study called ENCODE – the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements - but why do the findings matter?

Epigenetics explains how humans can have the same number of genes as a roundworm, yet be far more complex – because millions of genetic switches make more combinations of genes possible. The switches constantly tweak genes on and off to produce the sophisticated person you see in the mirror, instead of a roundworm.

Epigenetics may influence your risk of developing certain diseases

Image courtesy of European Bioinformatics Institute

The way in which your individual switches turn genes on and off might influence your risk of developing certain diseases. A deeper understanding of epigenetics will help us understand how disease happens, and with this new knowledge, doctors of the future may be able to tailor treatment of disease to an individual patient’s own switch combinations, targeting the elements that control the genes, rather than the genes themselves, to cure genetic illnesses.

Chron's disease

Image courtesy of Nephron 2011

Epigenetics is showing us that the old idea of nature versus nurture is no longer valid – the two are interchangeable. We’re all a mixture of both.

Find out more about the discovery on Nature.com