Epigenetics, the study of heritable changes that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, is an increasingly
important area of medical research. It includes the study of ‘imprinted’ genes, a small sub-set of genes whose
activity differs depending on which parent the gene is inherited from. An international study led by Dr Ken Ong
and involving scientists from 166 institutions worldwide, demonstrated for the first time that imprinted genes can
control rate of development after birth in humans. The results of the study of more than 180,000 women (Nature
2014) showed that the age at which girls reach sexual maturity is influenced by imprinted genes.
Lead author Dr John Perry highlighted the growing appreciation of the potential role of imprinted genes in health and disease: “We knew that some imprinted genes control antenatal growth and development – but there is increasing interest in the possibility that imprinted genes may also control childhood maturation and later life outcomes, including disease risks.”