I thought I got my flat feet from my father and my hypertension from my mother and that was that. Now the plot thickens. Enter the Epigenome. In 2003 the human genome was finally decoded and we had a blueprint of the genes (DNA) to make a human being. Now the scientists have found there’s another piece to the blueprint and that piece can move. The scientists have discovered that our genes have “switches.” These switches actually turn genes on or leave them off. It’s this newly discovered part of our genome that is called the Eipgenome.
“So what”, you say. There’s a lot of “so what” here. Apparently these switches can mean the difference between getting cancer or a ton of other diseases, or staying healthy. In other words, we all carry bad/rouge genes for disease or unusual physical or emotional conditions. If the switch on a bad gene is flipped, we get the disease. If the switch stays in the off position, we stay healthy.
Now the question is: What makes a switch flip? To me this is the most interesting part. Apparently our experiences growing up and how we handle the stress and challenges of our lives as adults is the answer.
In the PBS NOVA program entitled Ghosts in Our Genes (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02.html)it showed that scientists worked on mice to see if a difference in mothering skills had an effect on the baby rat’s development and their future lives. The baby mice that were attended to gently and carefully by their mothers grew up to be better able to cope with stress, more sociable and most importantly, healthier throughout their life time.
Another angle was shown in studies of identical twins who, of course, are born with identical genomes. But studies of older twins show their identical genome changes dramatically over time. A study was done with 66 year old identical twins. When their genome was studied it was found their DNA no longer looked at all like that of identical twins. One twin had in fact developed a rare form of cancer while the other had remained healthy. The sick twin had experienced a difficult life with several marriages and many financial problems. The other twin had a far more stable life with a solid marriage and several grown children.
Now we have scientific proof that how we live our lives has a great impact on our genes. Who knew? Now we can clearly see that our experiences, like traumas as a child, or many hard knocks through life, can set us up for DNA changes that can flip some bad switches.