Wouldn’t it be great to find out years in advance if you were at risk of developing a disease later in life and be able to take steps to prevent it?

With some recent research findings from Washington State University, that reality may be closer than you think.

Michael Skinner.

Researchers from the university, which include Michael Skinner, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences, studied epigenetic biomarkers — factors that change how a gene is expressed without changing the DNA itself — that are connected to preterm birth, rheumatoid arthritis and autism spectrum disorder.

Epigenetics doesn’t research the DNA sequence, but instead the molecular entities around the DNA that affect how the genomes function. Those entities are called methyl groups, and they’re organic compounds which link to a DNA molecule that can turn genes within that DNA on and off and regulate how they’re expressed.

“We’ve been studying epigenetics for well over 20 years, but it’s only recently we’ve been looking at a human population to find these new associations,” Skinner says.

According to Skinner, epigenetic research has a much higher frequency at accurately identifying an individual’s likelihood of developing a disease than genetic research does.

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