Epigenetics

 

Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence.  Epigenetic mechanisms play important roles in our development from a fertilized egg into a complex human being, as well as in aging and in various diseases (including cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes).  Environmental factors, including, nutrition, pollution, stress, exercise, diet and others, are potential modifiers of our own epigenome, which can lead to a variety of medical conditions.


The conventional view is that DNA carries all our heritable information and that nothing an individual does in their lifetime will be biologically passed to their children.  This view is currently changing.

To many scientists, epigenetics amounts to heresy, calling into question the accepted view of the DNA sequence, a cornerstone on which modern biology sits.


Epigenetics adds a whole new layer to genes beyond the DNA.  It proposes a control system of ’switches’ that turn genes on or off and suggests that things people experience, our nutrition and stresses, can control these switches and cause heritable effects in humans for generations that follow.  This means that we are the care takers not only for our own genes and health but, for the genes and health of our children and our grandchildren.  What we do or don’t at critical stages of developmental affects the health and well being of our family line for the generations that follow.


We can now modify many of the unhealthy epigenetic influences that affect us and even those passed down to our children and grandchildren.


The MD Anderson Cancer Research Center, The Walsh Research Institute and other centers, are now applying this information in the treatment of cancer and psychiatric disorders, respectively.  They are developing new chemotherapy agents that alter the epigene, resulting in normal gene function.



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Douglas Krech,O.M.D.

(626) 660-4781

Drkrech@me.com

   Randy Jirtle,  Ph.D.,  Duke University