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These epigenetic changes may last through cell divisions for the duration of the cell's life, and may also last for multiple generations even though they do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; One example of an epigenetic change in eukaryotic biology is the process of cellular differentiation.
The NIH "Roadmap Epigenomics Project", ongoing as of 2016, uses the following definition: "For purposes of this program, epigenetics refers to both heritable changes in gene activity and expression (in the progeny of cells or of individuals) and also stable, long-term alterations in the transcriptional potential of a cell that are not necessarily heritable." In 2008, a consensus definition of the epigenetic trait, "stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence", was made at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting.More typically, the term is used in reference to systematic efforts to measure specific, relevant forms of epigenetic information such as the histone code or DNA methylation patterns.Epigenetic changes modify the activation of certain genes, but not the genetic code sequence of DNA.Waddington held that cell fates were established in development (canalisation) much as a marble rolls down to the point of lowest local elevation.The term "epigenetic" has also been used in developmental psychology to describe psychological development as the result of an ongoing, bi-directional interchange between heredity and the environment.
Moreover, if gene inactivation occurs in a sperm or egg cell that results in fertilization, this epigenetic modification may also be transferred to the next generation.