When you think about your genetic inheritance, you’re likely to feel powerless. After all, the human gene mix you got at conception is not something you can exchange for a better roll of the dice. Whatever gene mutations you got at that time, short of gene splicing, say, are fixed.Which means you’re helpless, basically, and can only wait for your genes to express themselves.
That was as far as knowledge went until a short time ago, when science discovered the whole field of what is now called ‘epigenetics’ – the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. All of a sudden, epigentic discoveries opened up a whole new world. These breakthroughs moved people from feeling hopeless and powerless to experiencing hope and curiosity. They were now motivated to learn about their own genetic inheritance and how to affect its expression.
No longer was it accurate to assume, “Oh well, my parent had a cancer gene (breast, ovarian, colon, lung), or my parent had Alzheimer’s, or cystic fibrosis, or multiple sclerosis, for example, so there’s nothing to be done. I’ll likely get it too. So might as well have fun while I can – biology is destiny.”
Now those same people could avail themselves of genetic screening. They could place a bit of their saliva in a test tube and receive back their entire gene profile. An analysis of genes could now be seen as a way to learn what factors could turn certain genes on or off. If you discovered you had some genes that could be beneficial to your health if activated, you could explore ways to turn them on; while finding ways to turn off problematic ones.
How this is possible is still being investigated. For now, one thing that’s known is that there are DNA-binding proteins that can settle down on top of genes and silence them. These various DNA-binding protein have different binding affinities, and they can turn genes on or off. They can also respond to their environment.
Another mechanism concerns methyl groups – these can chemically modify particular genes. They can attach to the DNA itself, or they can attach to substances called ‘histones’, thus coating the gene. This discovery resulted in major emphasis placed on finding out and affecting your methylation pathways through genetic screening.
What this all means is that your habits have everything to do with genetic expression. No longer can you truthfully justify poor lifestyle choices because you’re at the mercy of the genes you inherited when you were conceived anyway. Now, you can see that your genetic inheritance – whatever it was – is a place to start checking out options and opportunities that will maximize expression of your healthy genes and minimize or even completely eliminate those gene expressions that lead to poor health or disease.