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"Epigenetics - bridge between genome and environment", a science comic by the Leibniz-IZW
22 December 2016
Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has translated the results of its research into a comic. It tells a story about wild guinea pigs and teaches us that genes are not everything: environmental conditions and individual experiences can influence which sections of the genetic code are used. The Leibniz-IZW-comic "Epigenetics - bridge between genome and environment" is published by Jaja-Verlag.
At the "9th Forum for Science Communication" in Bielefeld, Germany, from the 5th to the 7th Dec 2016, Leibniz-IZW scientists Alexandra Weyrich and Kathleen Roellig presented a science comic on "epigenetics". Scientific research often deals with complex matters which is why appropriate forms of 'translation’ can be useful to reach an audience beyond the scientific community. Today’s comics are an established mode of publication which goes far beyond "Donald Duck and his friends" and which enjoys great popularity in all age groups. Together with the Jaja-Verlag, the Leibniz-IZW has implemented an experiment: Scientific results presented as a comic. "We wanted to convey our research results in an entertaining, easily understood way to high school students and interested adults. Although our study objects are wild animals, many of the fundamental questions which we are interested in are relevant to us all," explains Dr Alexandra Weyrich, an expert for epigenetics at the IZW.
Can wild animals adjust to changes in environmental conditions? How do they deal with rising temperatures in their habitat? And can they pass on their "experiences" to their descendants?
For a long time, it was thought that the adaptability of living creatures at the genetic level was restricted to changes in the building blocks of the genetic codewhich are passed on from generation to generation. In the last decade or so it has been shown that there are mechanisms that allow an animal to respond to environmental conditions in a flexible manner by switching genes on or off. Finding out how this works is the subject of epigenetics. Epigenetics therefore literally builds a bridge between the genotype and the environment. Just as the keyboard is the same across all pianos, the genome is the same in every cell of an organism. Epigenetics determines which genes are activated, i.e. which song is played on the keyboard. In the science comic, the lady scientist Ada tells us how epigenetics works and how changes in the selection of genes which are active (or inactive) influence organisms and their offspring. In an entertaining manner, readers learn about wild animals, evolution, science and even humans themselves. To reach a wide audience, the science comic is available in German and English. The pilot project of the Leibniz-IZW was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Weyrich A, Köhn A, Nowacki O (2016): Epigenetics : bridge between genome and enivironment. 24 pages, Jaja Verlag: ISBN: 978-3-946642-11-4.
The comic is based on the following scientific publication:
Weyrich A, Lenz D, Jeschek M, Chung TH, Rübensam K, Göritz K, Jewgenow, K, Fickel J (2015): Paternal intergenerational epigenetic response to heat exposure in male Wild guinea. Running Title: Paternal epigenetic response to heat. MOL ECOL – special issue Epigenetic Studies in Ecology and Evolution.