Epigenetics nurture takes the spotlight  was the topic of an article recently titled “Are we a Product of our DNA or our Environment?” The Human Genome was a huge study that had the goal of understanding how DNA makes complex creatures like humans. Instead, it created more questions than it answered as is typically the case in science.  Scientists began to realize that the turning ON/OFF of genes played a far more important role in understanding humans than did the DNA alone. Genes can be turned ON/OFF in different ways and in combinations. This is very similar to complex computer programming, a subject I am very familiar with.  Doctor Jean Pierre-Issa at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center states, “You cannot genetically tell my skin from my eyes or my teeth, yet these are very different cells. They behave differently”. Each cells DNA is the same but the epigenetics is very different resulting in different cellular distinctions.

We have been discussing this switching ON/OFF of our genes in this BLOG. It is called epigenetics. Dr. Jean Pierre-Issa says “The DNA itself remains intact, yet the way in which each gene functions is controlled by chemical signals. To date, the best known epigenetic processes are methylation, the addition or removal of chemical tags on the DNA chain, and chromatin (histone) modification, which alters chromatin structure. Methylation turns genes ON and OFF like a switch and chromatin wraps around the gene and shrinks it so it cannot be used (seen) by the body.”

Dr. Jirtle PhD, the Director of the Laboratory of Epigenetics and Imprinting as Duke University states “Diet is not the only environmental factor that has provoked interest as a possible link to gene function and health. It has been found that the quality of maternal care “can trigger epigenetic signals – sometimes with profound psychological and physical effects”. So nurturing our young is a critical factor in their well-being.”

Scientists have always known about the epigenetic triggers even before the term epigenetics was used.  It was believed that the DNA genes held more promise than the triggers (epigenetics). We now know that it is all about the epigenetics. The epigenome project has begun but will take far more time than the genome project took. What will we learn from this project? More answers or more questions? What do you think?