Normally, a person inherits two copies of genes each from the father and mother. Both of copies of genes are active in the cells. However, there are situations whereby only one of the two copies of genes that are inherited is active. There is no certainty in the particular copy that is active but it all depends on the origin. There are certain genes that are usually active only when inherited from the father and others that take the same course when acquired from the mother. This phenomenon is what is referred to as genomic imprinting.
Genes that usually undergo genomic imprinting have the parents of their origins marked. The stamp is placed on the gene while undergoing the process of egg and sperm cell formation. The marking of the gene is conducted through a chemic reaction process known as methylation. Through this reaction, small-sized molecules are attached to some parts of DNA. These molecules are referred to as methyl groups. The molecules are able to identify the particular genes that are inherited from the father as well as the mother. In order to control the way in which the genes operate, the small molecules can be removed.
Contrary to what most people believe, only a fraction of all human genes go through the process of genomic imprinting. According to most researchers, it has not yet been established what really causes the imprinting of certain genes and not all. However, there is knowledge of the fact that genes that are imprinted often group themselves together in similar sections of chromosomes. In humans, there are two main groupings of imprinted genes that have so far been identified.
Genes that are imprinted become susceptible targets for pathologies since their haploid state enables only one epigenomic or genomic change to alter their functionality. This can result into serious health effects. Mostly, genomic imprinting anomalies are usually brought out as neurological or developmental health conditions if they take place during the stages of early development. In case they are altered when a person has attained adulthood, they can turn out to be cancerous. Other health conditions that have also been linked to genomic imprinting include Alzheimer disease, Angelman and Prader-Willi syndromes, bipolar mesothelioma, leukemia, diabetes, obesity among others.
Even though the mechanisms for genomic imprinting have not yet been defined, it is a known fact that the process involves epigenetic modifications that are first erased and then re-modified as the sperm and eggs are created. According to a recent study, putting pregnant mothers on diets that are deficient of methyl can change the way in which imprinted genes are expressed in children. As a result of this, there are higher chances that imprinted genes can undergo environmental associations with the genome.
Most imprinted genes are usually very active in growth and metabolism of the body. Genes that are imprinted paternally or maternally usually operate within the same growth pathways. As a result of this, there is often an epigenetic battle between the mother and father.
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