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What’s the Difference?

Mutations and epigenetic changes can make a lasting impact on our genes, but they go about change in distinct ways.

By Rachael Moeller Gorman // Fall 2007
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A MUTATION...

AN EPIGENETIC CHANGE...

Modifies the genome—the set of genes each individual possesses Modifies the epigenome, which determines which
genes are expressed (turned on) or
silenced (turned off)
Can occur at any point in life Mainly occurs during crucial points in development, particularly in the womb and during the slow growth period, which precedes puberty
Could have a pathological effect; it’s the result of damage or a molecular mistake Is usually an adaptive measure to help a person
survive in his or her environment
Changes the DNA sequence. Mutations include the insertion or deletion of a base pair or a change in a base pair Changes the scaffolding that carries the DNA
sequence. In one method, methylation, a chemical
compound called a methyl group attaches to cytosine (C), barring nearby genes from being transcribed
into a protein
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The New Heredity

Epigenetics

It appears that natural selection isn’t the only way traits are passed along. Environmental influences, too, may get embedded in our DNA.

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