Have you ever wondered how identical twins who share the same copy of DNA turn out to be so different when they grow up? How can one develop cancer at age 50 while the other still can run marathons and hike up mountains?
Even though the identical twins were born with the same exact DNA, the environment where they were brought up in and the stress levels they have undergone have a lot to do with how healthy or susceptible they are to diseases.
There is no doubt that ‘nature’ (DNA they’re born with) and ‘nurture’ (the environment in which they grow up in) play an important role in the differences between identical twins. However, the emerging field of science called epigenetics may as well provide the missing puzzle piece in the epic story of human adaptability.
Epigenetics is the study of how our genes interact with the small multitudes of molecules and how those molecules can turn on/off our certain genes resulting in changes in the gene expression. Gene expression happens when DNA is transcribed into RNA which is translated into proteins. These proteins determine cell characteristics and its functions.
The protein called histone, which wrap around DNA, sometimes get labelled with small chemical tags called epigenome. These tags can boost or interfere with the transcription process. They can cause the DNA to coil more tightly making the gene inaccessible to transcribe. The gene is still there but silent. Some chemical tags can unwire the DNA making it easier to access, in other words, making the gene easier to express.
We used to believe that these chemical tags or epigenomes would be wiped off once the DNA was passed on to the next generation. However, many recent studies show that some of the tags will stick to the DNA and get passed on to the offspring. This means that the lifestyle choices we make today may affect our children and our grandchildren in a long run.
If you think that you might be born with the “bad genes” and there is nothing you can do about it, don’t worry about that. Although epigenomes can pass on from generation to generation, they are not permanent. The genes we have in our DNA are not set in stone. We can influence our gene expression by making good lifestyle choices such as choosing the correct diet, exercise, and thoughts to create a wellness environment.
Once we understand how our genes influence us, we may be able to influence them and in turn achieve better health, longer life, and increased happiness.