Epigenomics and the concept of degeneracy in biological systems

Ryszard Maleszka, Paul Howard Mason, Andrew B. Barron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


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 degeneracyçreferring to the multiple pathways that a system recruits to achieve functional plasticityçis 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 - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic code
  • Histone modifications
  • Honey bee
  • Pluripotentiality
  • Redundancy
  • Robustness
  • Social insect

Cite this