Epigenetics, plasticity, and evolution: How do we link epigenetic change to phenotype?



Epigenetic mechanisms are proposed as an important way in which the genome responds to the environment. Epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation and Histone modifications, can be triggered by environmental effects, and lead to permanent changes in gene expression, affecting the phenotype of an organism. Epigenetic mechanisms have been proposed as key in plasticity, allowing environmental exposure to shape future gene expression. While we are beginning to understand how these mechanisms have roles in human biology and disease, we have little understanding of their roles and impacts on ecology and evolution. In this review, we discuss different types of epigenetic marks, their roles in gene expression and plasticity, methods for assaying epigenetic changes, and point out the future advances we require to understand fully the impact of this field. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 322B: 208–220, 2014. © 2014 The Authors. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.