Written By Ashley Eugene Founder of Higher Love, June 2019
Epigenetics began as research that focused on combining genetics and developmental biology. This field was first discovered by scientist Conrad H Waddington and Ernst Hadorn. The term epigenetics was coined by Waddington in 1942 and was originally described the influence of genetic process on development. In the 1990’s a renewed interest started with research into genetic assimilation.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in the expression of genes in the DNA. Genes carry genetic information from one generation to the next. These genes are located in a fixed position on a chromosome. They hold within them the blueprint for our body. However in recent years research has shown that there are many other factors that contribute to gene expression. Factors such as nutrition, the environment in which we live, and lifestyle have more impact on our genes or rather our gene expression than originally thought.
Epigenetics looks at the way genes change and express themselves over the span of our lifetime and whether those gene changes can be passed to other generations. In the study of epigenetics research into the reasons why identical twins develop in such different ways although they have the same genetic blueprint.
One analogy that I love for this is as follows “Epigenetics is the genetic punctuation. It will not change the words in the DNA paragraph but it will change the message that is relayed by rearranging the punctuation in the paragraph.
There are many types of epigenetic processes such as methylation, phosphorylation, and acetylation to name a few.
First let’s review. Genomes are all of our hereditary information. The Epigenome is the genome that determines what is turned on or off in the blueprint of our DNA. Every cell in our body has DNA. Chromatin (histones) bind together to let the genes know if they should express. Chromatin is the spool that DNA winds itself around. Histones change how tightly or loosely the DNA is wrapped around the histone spool. The looser it is wrapped the more the gene is expressed. The tighter it is the less it is expressed.
In our DNA we have DNA methylation the adding or removing of Carbon and Hydrogen CH3. Methyl groups are like a switch. Chromatin are like a knob. Every cell has a different methylation and chromatin pattern that is what tells the cells what to do. These tell the cells whether they are for your brain, nerves, lips, eyes, or any other part of your body and let them know their job in that area.
Another way to look at this is the DNA is the hardware of the computer. The Epigenome is the software that decides whether a gene is expressed or not.
Our genes can change over time or in a instant depending on what is happening in our lives. Changes such as puberty happen slowly over time. In this time the body is giving the cells new information to tackle new tasks in the body. These include menses, hair growth, and physical changes. Another example is pregnancy. When pregnancy occurs the cells must quickly change to meet the increased demand of the mother’s body and the new life that is growing within her.
There are recent studies on twins that grew up in separate households and what affects genes had on them. They were looking at nature vs nurture. Scientist were curious what genes were affected by our DNA (genes) or nurture (environment).
The research showed that things like criminal behavior and addiction were more strongly influenced by nature whereas things like emotional health, illness such as cancer and dietary preference were influenced more by nurture or the environment that they were raised in.
They are also looking into the reason that twins that were raised in the same household with relatively the same environment one twin is more likely to develop autism, asthma, and bipolar disorder.
Today research shows that a large variety of behaviors, illness, and various other health indicators that link to epigenetics. These include cancer of almost all types, respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, autoimmune, cognitive issues and neurobehavioral illness. There are several suspected or known factors that can have an effect on these. These include the food we eat, the toxins we ingest, lifestyle choices, heavy metals, smoking, radioactivity, exhaust, and bacteria are among some of the causes for epigenetic malformations.
In 1970 when the epigenome was discovered. When originally discovered the thought was that most epigenomes are stripped before they are passed along. New evidence shows that epigenomes get stuck and are passed from one generation to the next. Now we know that parental methylation patterns can be passed down for up to for generations. In studies with mice they were heavily exposed to high levels of fungicide and insecticide and had decreased sperm production and that gene mutation was passed down for 4 generations.
According to the Journal of Proteome Research November 2005 issue by Nilamadhab Mishra, the Wake Forest University School of Medicine says that they were able to link histone modification and mechanisms underlying lupus like symptoms in mice and that these effects could be reversed with a drug called trichostatin A. This seems to reset the histone modification by correcting hypoacetylation at the histone sites reversing the symptoms.
With all of the information that we now know about epigenetics and how what we eat, do, where we live, and the choices we make will impact not only our lives but that of those to come. This gives us the power back as well as giving us a huge responsibility to our future. Knowing that we are pre dispositioned to nothing is a huge. In our blueprint we can design our genes to best suit us and our lives if we are dedicated to it.
- Bruce H. Lipton, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, Hay House, Incorporated, Oct 11, 2016
- Jeffrey M Craig and Nicholas C Wong, Epigenetics: The Reference Manual, Caister Academic press, 2011
- Mukherjee, Siddhartha. “Same but Different.” New Yorker, May 2, 2016
- Nilamadhab Mishra, Journal of Proteome Research, November 2005
- Trygve Tollefsbol, Transgenerational Epigenetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2014