The issue of epigenetic changes and their impact on human health and life span was prominently discussed at EFSA’s second scientific conference ‘Shaping the future of food safety, together’ in Milan. Epigenetic changes are molecular changes mainly in chromatin, such as DNA methylation, histone modifications, that modulate gene expression directly or indirectly through the expression of noncoding RNAs. There is increasing evidence to suggest that individual lifestyles, nutrition and environmental stressors can affect epigenetic processes and as a result, alter phenotypes, longevity health and disease both within generations (from embryogenesis to adulthood) and in a transgenerational manner. In response to the interest in this issue, EFSA has selected epigenetics as the subject of its 22nd scientific colloquium, which was held on 14 and 15 June 2016 in Valencia, Spain. About 100 scientists, risk managers and policymakers discussed where we stand regarding our knowledge of epigenetic mechanisms. The overall objective of the discussions was to identify the potential role of epigenetics in food safety risk assessment. The colloquium was organised around four discussion groups looking at the following themes: incorporating epigenetics data in mode of action analysis; epigenetics and chemical risk assessment in humans; epigenetics in risk assessment of farmed animals for food production; epigenetics and environmental risk assessment. The main takehome message from the colloquium was to ask and seek answers to those questions that will increase our understanding of epigenetics. What do epigenetic modifications mean for safety assessment? How do we study them? What is the size of such modifications that we need worry about? Cooperation and collaboration between the various scientific disciplines and with the clinical side of epidemiology was identified as a necessary strategic element to improve scientific risk assessment.
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First published in EFSA Supporting Publications:
14 December 2016