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Applying Human Epigenomic Variation

While the genome is typically non-informative regarding lifelong influences on the body, the epigenome is as it acts as interphase between the mostly ‘fixed’ genome and the principally ‘dynamic’ environment. Lifelong molecular responses to environmental exposure via epigenetic variation across the genome, especially in the context of DNA methylation levels at thousands of cytosines (CpG sites), eventually results in individual epigenome variation. We are investigating human epigenomic variation with various forensically and other societally relevant questions in mind. For instance we explore epigenomic signatures of ageing to develop solutions to predict the age of a person from biological material for applications in forensic and beyond. This is relevant in some medical context and regarding our work on appearance prediction from DNA, as several disease and appearance traits are age dependent. We demonstrated that DNA methylation markers are more informative for molecular age prediction than other types of biomarkers such as mRNA, sjTREC, telomere length, and developed epigenetic solutions for predicting a person’s age from blood. In another example we showed that epigenetic differentiation of monozygotic twins, which cannot be separated with standard forensic DNA profiling, is feasible with DNA methylation markers in the forensic context. We are expanding the forensic and other societally relevant applications of human epigenomics towards lifestyle and other environmental factors.

Selected relevant publications:

Vidaki, A., Díez López, C., Carnero-Montoro, E., Ralf, A., Ward, K., Spector, T., Bell, J.T., Kayser, M. Epigenetic discrimination of identical twins from blood under the forensic scenario. Forensic Sci Int Genet. 2017 31: 67-80.
Pubmed: 28854398

Zubakov, D., Liu, F., Kokmeijer, I., Choi, Y., van Meurs, J.B.J., van Ijcken, W.F.J., Uitterlinden, A.G., Hofman, A., Broer, L., van Duijn, C.M., Lewin, J., Kayser, M. Human age estimation from blood using mRNA, DNA methylation, DNA rearrangement, and telomere length. Forensic Sci Int Genet. 2016 24: 33-43.
Pubmed: 27288716