Cells, the simplest form of life are amazingly complex and efficient. They can be free-living or components of more complex life forms, like humans. All of a cells functions, metabolism, reproduction, etc, are controlled by the DNA. In multi-cellular organisms the DNA is the same in every cell of that organism, yet individual cells carry out vastly diverse functions. For example, neurons transmit information throughout the body while stomach cells digest food. These diverse functions are determined by the specific DNA sequences that are expressed in each cell type. Therefore, no one cell expresses all of the DNA sequence it possesses. Furthermore, the expression of the DNA sequences can be influenced by environmental factors, such as diet, smoking, alcohol, and exercise. Epigenetics is the study of how gene expression is altered without changing the DNA sequence. This altered gene expression is frequently a result of environmental exposures, including synthetic and natural estrogenic compounds. Understanding how exposure to these compounds alters gene expression is important as it is a potential factor for the development of many human diseases, including cancer. Lisa's interest in epigenetics and cancer has led to the development of new courses in these areas as well as research opportunities for undergraduate students.
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