Epigenetic modifications of DNA such as methylation are important for genome function during development and in adults. DNA methylation has central importance for genomic imprinting and other aspects of epigenetic control of gene expression, and during development methylation patterns are largely maintained in somatic lineages. The mammalian genome undergoes major reprogramming of methylation patterns in the germ cells and in the early embryo. Some of the factors that are involved both in maintenance and in reprogramming, such as methyltransferases, are being identified. Epigenetic changes are likely to be important in animal cloning, and influence the occurrence of epimutations and of epigenetic inheritance. Environmental factors can alter epigenetic modifications and may thus have long lasting effects on phenotype. Epigenetic engineering is likely to play an important role in medicine in the future.
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