What is it about?

In this study, we examined how stress affects embryonic development. Interestingly, we found that starvation triggers a heritable, epigenetic response involving small RNAs, which in turn modulate gut specification in nematode C. elegans.

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Why is it important?

We have uncovered tremendous plasticity in embryonic development driven by both genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Our findings, together with many recent studies, challenge the gene-centric view of heredity and evolution. Heritable phenotypic variation generated in response to environmental stimuli (and by genetic mutations) may be subjected to natural selection, influencing the evolutionary trajectory of the animals. Perhaps Lamarck's theory of inheritance of acquired traits is worthy of a more nuanced interpretation rather than exaggerated example of stretched necks in giraffes.

Perspectives

The initial phase of this project was particularly challenging, as we now know that the environment in which the animals are cultured needs to be tightly controlled. Nonetheless, writing this article was a great pleasure, thanks to co-authors who are immensely supportive!

CHEE EWE
University of California Santa Barbara

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This page is a summary of: Natural cryptic variation in epigenetic modulation of an embryonic gene regulatory network, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1920343117.
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