The genome of many viruses, bacteria, plants, animals and human beings has been sequenced in the course of the last two decades. We now know which genes these organisms possess. However, our knowledge about the exact function of individual genes and the complicated control mechanisms, which turn them on and off, is still incomplete.
Epigenetics is a research field of the modern life sciences. It describes control mechanisms that are not specified in the genetic code of our genes. Instead, structural changes to the genome influence the activity of individual genes. Thus, two cells with the same genes can display very different traits. Unlike concrete gene mutations, epigenetic patterns are modifiable. External factors like the environment play a role here. These traits shaped by the environment can be inherited by future generations since epigenetic patterns are passed on in the genome.
As part of the Group's interdisciplinary approach, it analyses the latest research and looks at its application areas in Germany, its ethical implications for research and its societal perception. One very interesting aspect in this context is the philosophical dimension to this topic which is very difficult to gauge using objective indicators.