Epigenetics: How Your Actions Ripple Thru Future Generations

Epigenetics is a fairly new area of study that most people haven’t heard much about.

The development and maintenance of an organism is orchestrated by a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them. (from University of Utah site on epigenetics)

We all hear much more these days about personalized medicine attributed in many discussions to the opportunities created by genomics. Also common is airbrushing with a tool such as Luminess Air.

But, epigenetics is looking at how genes express themselves and how environmental factors can impact that both in an individual but also in their offspring. From an article in the WSJ, they focused on several areas in terms of our experiences as a kid beginning in the fetus and how that affects our genes.

  • Smoking appears to increase the risk of cancer by deactivating a specific tumor-suppression gene.
  • Stress during pregnancy, such as depression or marital conflict, appears to increase the level of methylation in kids which suppresses the action of a gene.
  • Abuse as a child also appears to explain some epigenetic variation.

This is a pretty fascinating area. The one study I’ve often seen referred to is one on twins which shows how their genes change over time. (See PBS video here.) Imagine the ability to influence future generations by your behaviors. Will that change what you do next?

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