Thursday, August 1, 2013

Good Intro to Epigenetics

Epigenetics in Health and Disease is a good introduction to the field. I make a few comments which hopefully make this an attractive read.

Epigenetics is an ever growing field of research demonstrating that although genes themselves still follow the Watson-Crick paradigm, that there are many complex factors which can distort their actions. Namely things are not necessarily as straightforward as they look. The book by the Kovalchuks is an excellent introduction to this field. It benefits from the fact that it is written by a single set of authors and thus does not suffer from the repetition, changes in style, and levels of coverage many of the multi-author texts have.

The authors provide a review of the chromosome and its structure and the importance of the histones in the overall expression of genes.

They then provide an excellent discussion of methylation, one of the key elements in epigenetic control. Methylation of the C element in DNA has been found to provide a broad set of changes in gene expression. The authors introduce the reader to these in a straightforward and understandable manner. As such this can be used as a good first introduction to this area.

The author then goes into non-coding RNAs including the miRNA and lncRNAs. The authors provide a broad discussion of these areas across many kingdoms, plants, animals, fungi etc. This coverage is well done and allows the reader to see how these effects impact many areas. All too often the focus may be upon the human, but seeing this in other kingdoms as well is extremely informative.

The authors conclude with several chapters on the impact of these epigenetic factors; methylation and ncRNAs. The classic set, cancer, behavioral, and environmental are discussed.

On the positive side the authors have kept the level of presentation understandable and consistent. The level and depth is adequate for a good initial introduction to the literature. The book is not an in depth reference text but then again there is none that I am aware of. In addition the knowledge in this field is changing on an almost daily basis.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone wanting to take the first steps into this exciting area. There are some additions that I would like to have seen:

1. In the cancer area, the Myelodysplastic Syndrome, MDS, is an interesting hypermethylation pre-cancer often resulting in AML. It is treated with drugs targeting this hypermethylation. I believe that this would be an excellent case study for many cancers. In addition there is the cause or effect element regarding the methylation states of many cancers. This is still a work in progress.

2. Flower colors and patterning is an interesting area for the use of epigenetic analysis. I would like to see some discussion here. For example is there a relationship to the X chromosome issue as in calico cats or is this a pathway control issue often found in other patterning areas.

3. Figure can be dramatically improved. The black and white ones are barely readable and the colored versions are in the rear of the text and are not of great quality. The figure lend a great deal.

4. Agouti mouse issues regarding a way to measure methylation effects may be a useful tool and should be considered for inclusion. Just a thought

Overall the authors have done a superb job and the book is worth being on the shelf of all involved in this area.