The molecular mechanisms involved in developmental biology and cellular differentiation have traditionally been considered to be primarily genetic. Environmental factors that influence early life critical windows of development generally do not have the capacity to modify genome sequence, nor promote permanent genetic modifications. Epigenetics provides a molecular mechanism for environment to influence development, program cellular differentiation, and alter the genetic regulation of development. The current review discusses how epigenetics can cooperate with genetics to regulate development and allow for greater plasticity in response to environmental influences. This impacts area such as cellular differentiation, tissue development, environmental induced disease etiology, epigenetic transgenerational inheritance, and the general systems biology of organisms and evolution.
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