Epigenomics and the concept of degeneracy in biological systems

Ryszard Maleszka*, Paul H. Mason, Andrew B. Barron

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)
    18 Downloads (Pure)


    Researchers in the field of epigenomics are developing more nuanced understandings of biological complexity, and exploring the multiple pathways that lead to phenotypic expression. The concept of degeneracy—referring to the multiple pathways that a system recruits to achieve functional plasticity—is an important conceptual accompaniment to the growing body of knowledge in epigenomics. Distinct from degradation, redundancy and dilapidation; degeneracy refers to the plasticity of traits whose function overlaps in some environments, but diverges in others. While a redundant system is composed of repeated identical elements performing the same function, a degenerate system is composed of different elements performing similar or overlapping functions. Here, we describe the degenerate structure of gene regulatory systems from the basic genetic code to flexible epigenomic modifications, and discuss how these structural features have contributed to organism complexity, robustness, plasticity and evolvability.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberelt050
    Pages (from-to)191-202
    Number of pages12
    JournalBriefings in Functional Genomics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - May 2014

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Authors 2013. Published by Oxford University Press. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com


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