For decades, our view of heredity has been written in the language of DNA — and genetic mutations and recombinations have driven most descriptions of how phenotypic traits are handed down from one generation to another. Yet, as is amply demonstrated in Science‘sspecial issue of 10 August 2001, recent discoveries in the field of epigenetics — the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence — have blurred that neat picture, and are changing the way researchers think about heredity. Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation, histone acetylation, and RNA interference, and their effects in gene activation and inactivation, are increasingly understood to be more than "bit players" in phenotype transmission and development. And, with the prospect of human cloning now being actively discussed in some quarters, understanding the twists and turns of epigenetic inheritance has become especially important.

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