Epigenetics

A simple definition of this exciting scientific arena is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes “on” and “off.”  A recent web-based explanation of this emerging medical field takes a walk through the complicated steps to simplify the complicated knowledge.

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Cells are our basic working units and these energetic cacoons contain the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which are the chemical directors of activities.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is composed of nucleotide bases which we all know as the recognizable “double helix” of our basic building proteins – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.  You may be more familiar with the letters – A, C, G, and T.

Sequencing of these bases is what determines the life instructions for each person – blue eyes, brown hair, long fingers.

Genes are the conductors of the sequencing and provide direction for triggering proteins to carry out life functions.

Epigenetics Controls Genes.  This means that what you experience in your daily life influences this “on” “off” process. The chemical process influencing this activation process can and will modify the “potential” of our individual genes.

The reason this is both interesting and important is that current and ancestral personal activities influence this process.  The chemical influence of methylation which modifies our genes can be passed on from generation to generation.  Scientists verify that astronauts returning from outer space experience this methylation change and the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 is being used to prevent detrimental genetic effects to the astronauts.  In other words, the harmful effects from outer space noted on the astronauts DNA are being removed by gene splicing so that they will not be passed on to the next generation of their family. (Science Oct 28, 2017, 1:43 pm)

This may sound like science fiction.  However, this process is called molecular engineering technologies and scientist can counteract and repair defective genes.

Your DNA also contains information about your health and your grandmother’s health.  Your risk for developing specific diseases is sitting in your genes and can be read like a movie.  Genetic testing can determine your tendency toward developing chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s,  Alzheimer’s, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, macular degeneration and a host of other conditions. (WebMD Sonya Collins – Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD June 2017)

There is also a significant legacy that each person carries with them from their ancestors.  The methylation changes to our DNA carries the memory of our family’s life.  In this regard not only do we need to consider the obvious medical concerns but the emotional issues as well.  If your grandmother lived in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship for an extended period of time this environment left a noticeable methylation mark on her DNA.  A study by The Guardian (social-care-network/2015) noted that often times adolescent boys who are abused become abusers.  An additional study by DiscoverMagazine.com/May/2013, “Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes” indicates that a mother’s behavior could cause epigenetic changes in her DNA.  Another publication in the journal Nature Neuroscience (June/2004) verified this scientific finding.  These studies referred to their findings as a post-natal inheritance.  There is additional scientific information that similar activity is occurring during a mother’s developing pregnancy.

In other words, we’re not only what we experience but what our ancestor’s experience.

However, do not dismay.  You can influence this process.  Knowledge is the first step.  If you know your risk and your lifestyle triggers, you can establish protective measures with the goal of preventing the onset of illness or destructive behaviors.  Having a tendency toward something doesn’t mean that you’ll develop that issue.  It simply means that you have information about yourself and your genetic mutation to fit into your preventative maintenance program to help tailor your strategies; it’s a plan.

 

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