The epigenetic lorax: gene-environment interactions in human health

Epigenomics. 2012 Aug;4(4):383-402. doi: 10.2217/epi.12.31.


Over the last decade, we have witnessed an explosion of information on genetic factors underlying common human diseases and disorders. This 'human genomics' information revolution has occurred as a backdrop to a rapid increase in the rates of many human disorders and diseases. For example, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased at rates that cannot be due to changes in the genetic structure of the population, and are difficult to ascribe to changes in diagnostic criteria or ascertainment. A likely cause of the increased incidence of these disorders is increased exposure to environmental factors that modify gene function. Many environmental factors that have epidemiological association with common human disorders are likely to exert their effects through epigenetic alterations. This general mechanism of gene-environment interaction poses special challenges for individuals, educators, scientists and public policy makers in defining, monitoring and mitigating exposures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans