Human development is largely controlled by the complex chemical program contained in the chromosomes. Broadly speaking, this chemical program is composed of genetic information, which codes for proteins, and epigenetic information, which serves as “switches” that control gene expression. These switches tell genes what to do, and where and when to do it. Epigenetic mechanisms include, for example, DNA methylation, histone modification, and chromatin organization.
While mutations of the genetic code are relatively rare, even in the face of toxic exposures, research suggests that the epigenetic programming is more vulnerable to perturbations by environmental impacts, causing in some cases persistent changes in development. Indeed, many argue that this very environmental sensitivity helps drive the ongoing, dynamic process of evolution.
Because environmental epigenetics may be playing a quiet yet powerful role the etiology of some forms of neurodevelopmental abnormality including autism, this symposium brings together leading researchers to explore questions relating to this new paradigm, and to suggest new directions for research.
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