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Epigenetics Part 2 – Nature vs. Nurture

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Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...

Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus stem cell and possible uses on the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is part 2 on what is epigenetics. All our stem cells have exactly the same DNA but as epigenetics “expresses” certain genes they become unique and very different cell types. Like muscle, heart, skin, etc. Each stem cell becomes one type of cell in our bodies. Once it is transformed it and all its descendants remain that cell type.

Nature is our DNA and what is hard programmed into us but Nurture is that part of epigenetics that is changeable by what we eat, how we think, what we believe and how much stress we have in our lives. I use the example of a computer a lot in my BLOGs but a piano is a great example as well. The keys are our DNA (hard-wired for a sound) but the pianist “plays” the piano by hitting (expressing a key and a sound) and the order that keys are played. This gives us the infinite different types of piano music we have.

 

How programmed are we?

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From left to right, the structures of A-, B- a...

From left to right, the structures of A-, B- and Z-DNA. The structure a DNA molecule depends on its environment. In aqueous enviromnents, including the majority of DNA in a cell, B-DNA is the most common structure. The A-DNA structure is dominates in dehydrated samples and is similar to the double-stranded RNA and DNA/RNA hybrids. Z-DNA is a rarer structure found in DNA bound to certain proteins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are very programmed. In other BLOGs we have looked at mammals as having very similar DNA. So what makes us so different? The answer is epigenetics. It programs that common DNA in different ways to produce a dog, cow or human. When we are conceived, we know we get half our DNA from our mother and the other half from our father. We also get so epigenetic markers. These common from parents and their parents. They help the newborn adapt quicker to our environment. What our parents and grandparents learned from the environment (epigenetics) can also be passed down to the new-born.

Most of our epigenetic markers are wiped out but some get through. This is similar to loading a new operating system onto your computer. The instructions (DNA) are set but the programming loads pieces of the system until the system is able to run on its own. We know stem cells are assigned (via epigenetics) to become one type of cell (heart, liver, bone, brain, etc.). They then grow and multiply into the various organs and bones that make up our body. This again is similar to a computer boot strapping it’s self up. From the conceived stage to a small baby, our cells grow very rapidly. This may be similar to cancer. It gets turned off at some point and we continue to grow at a normal rate.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as programmed machines but really are. That doesn’t take away from concepts of souls, spiritual side or a God. It just means our bodies are pre-programmed to react in certain ways to certain stimuli. What are these stimuli? They include many things but among them are: diet, stress, thinking, and belief. How are you programming your body.

SHHH, Our Cells are Trying to Talk

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Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...

Image via Wikipedia

The University of Utah has an excellent description of how our cells communicate both within and between each other. This communication starts with a stem cell and causes each cell to modify itself into a type of cell (e.g. blood, skin, liver, heart). Once a cell becomes a type like our nervous system all later communication and changes are within the constraints of those already made. Nervous system cells don’t communicate like blood cells. Our heart cells don’t suddenly become a cuticle cell and start growing fingernails. These epigenetic switches become permanent and influence the remaining life of the cell and its ancestors. Other epigenetic chatter changes a cell dynamically and can be adjusted to react to environmental changes. Hormones get released by one part of the body and can influence cells in another part. This chatter makes us who we are. It causes us first to be mammals, then humans, and then a unique individual.

We are Immortal

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Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...

Image via Wikipedia

Human Epigenetic Programming starts prior to birth and goes long beyond death – According to a study documented in Epigenie stem cells also use epigenetics to activate and deactivate genes. It was previously thought that all human stem cells were alike. This study shows they have differing methylation causing epigenetic changes within the cell. These changes turn ON/OFF different genes in the stem cell. We appear to be epigenetically programmed from the sperm and egg, through stem cells, to birth, through our lives and beyond as our sperm or eggs become the next generation. This programming has been passed down through the generations to us and we will pass it on to all off our descendents. Each generation can modify the copy they got from their parents and pass a modified version on to their offspring. Not only does genetics seem to live forever but so does the epigenetic programming of our genetics.