The symposium examined how multidisciplinary research into epigenetics -- the science of the lasting marks that modify the expression of the genes encoded in human DNA -- might help provide answers to societal concerns including why poverty has such an impact on child development and on health outcomes.
Epigenetics is a recent scientific development that examines how particular mechanisms can influence whether certain genes are turned off, turned on, or modify a gene's level of activity.
Professor John Hobcraft of the University of York said the human genome includes both DNA and chromatin that binds everything together.
Research into epigenetics showed even though a person's DNA is not altered, lasting "marks" on the DNA or the chromatin structure alter the extent to which each gene is expressed to produce the proteins that are the essential building blocks of life.
Emerging research shows that factors such as poverty, parenting, stress and diet can impact how someone's genes are expressed, and this can remain "hard wired," with certain of these lasting epigenetic marks even being passed from parents to children.