Epigenetics: The Key to Overcoming Genetic Predisposition

epigenetic twins

No one can tell us apart in these disguises! http://www.ifc.com/

Despite epigenetics only recently gaining public awareness, it has been prevalent in society for some time. In the 1988 Hollywood classic Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito star as fraternal twins Julius and Vincent Benedict. They are the result of a secret experiment carried out at a genetics laboratory to produce the perfect child. At the time the movie premiered, the idea of twins who have drastically different appearances was farfetched and absurdist. Fast forward twenty-five years, and you will see what once was considered Hollywood fiction, is now considered a scientific reality. This reality is described through epigenetics.

Related Article: The Aging Process, Story of Telomeres

Modern science now tells us that even if you start out as a Danny DeVito, you could end up as an Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is either an upgrade or a downgrade depending on your point of view. These new findings are brought to us by the revolutionary field of science known as epigenetics. Epigenetics is defined as the study of changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA structure. In other words, it is possible that environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed, making even identical twins look dramatically different.


The Epigenetic Process

epigenetic expression

Genetic expression is dynamic, not set in stone.

The key to understanding the basis of epigenetics is knowing that this field of study has emerged as a logical way to bridge the gap between nature and nurture. Epigenetics allows us to understand just how closely nature and nurture are linked and how this link affects us as individuals. In his book, The Biology of Belief, and Spontaneous Evolution, cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton explains how emotions can regulate genetic expression. He says that,

Each cell membrane has receptors that pick up various environmental signals such as thoughts attitudes and perceptions.  Your cells can choose to read or not read specific genes depending on the signals being received from these environmental receptors.

Epigenetic science makes it possible for us to see that just because we are genetically programmed a certain way that does not mean our body will choose to run that genetic program. The environment we expose ourselves to and the lives that we lead determine gene expression and as a result, determine the people we become physically and emotionally. For example, my mom says I have her sparkling personality. I tell her that most people say I inherited her craziness. The epigenetic theory, however, says that prolonged exposure to my mom’s craziness could signal one of my genes to switch on or off, consequently altering that aspect of my personality. In addition, this “crazy trait” is now something I am more likely to pass onto my children.  To my future husband: my apologies.

Related Article: Watching Evolution Occur


The Effects of Epigenetic Gene Expression 

While all of us are equally susceptible to epigenetic change, twins who are not DeVito and Schwarzenegger can provide a unique perspective on physical change due to their identical DNA structure. In her essay, “Paramutation: From Maize to Mice”, Dr. Vicki Chandler explains the reason behind this saying,

Different cells in an organism express only the genes that are necessary for their own activity.

epigenetic grandkid dna

Smoking: so bad it will affect your grandkid’s DNA whether they are born or not. learn.genetics.utah.edu

So if each twin expresses only the genes necessary for their own activity, than the way each twin looks isn’t just based on their DNA sequence, but it is also based on how each one lives their life. This is how epigenetics reveal their effect. If you have one twin born and raised in the Austrian countryside that lives a healthy and active life, that twin will look different than the twin who moves away to dwell in the sewers of Gotham City.

Related Article: Kids May Have Three Biological Parents in the Future

In addition to twins, another way we can observe epigenetic change is through fossils. While there has been debate in the scientific community over the historical significance of epigenetic change, new evidence suggests that this process has been affecting physical development for longer than we thought.  According to Dr. Andrew Feinberg, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Johns Hopkins University,

DNA extracted from the bones of a 26,000 year old bison found in the Canadian arctic shows that the environment influenced the way the animal’s genes worked, even as far back as the ice age.

By making an organism more adaptable to environmental change, epigenetic factors play a crucial role in the process of natural selection. Since only the strong survive in the face of natural selection, we can rest assured that Arnold Schwarzenager and the fruits of his womb continue to thrive thanks to epigenetic changes in their DNA.

Related Article: Mothers Who Suffer Depression Have Shorter Kids

The field of epigenetics has the power to answer a lot of questions. It can tell us why we possess certain physical traits, certain aspects of our personality, and most importantly, how Arnold Schwarzenager was able to convincingly portray a pregnant man.


Epigenetics and Society 

Perhaps more important than appearance, personality, and pregnant men, is our susceptibility to factors that impact our health and behavior. Addiction, for example, can be exacerbated by epigenetic changes. According to William Renthal and Eric Nestler in their article “Epigenetic Mechanisms in Drug Addiction” published in the Journal of Trends in Molecular Medicine,

Epigenetic modifications have been observed in the studies of alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, and opiate use. These modifications increase the vulnerability of an individual to engage in repeated substance use. Increased substance use results in even greater epigenetic changes in the brain’s pleasure-reward areas.

epigenetic code

You were 1 epigenetic switch away from eating at McDonalds! orbitalteapot.blogspot.com

Pleasure-reward areas are part of what launch us into the vicious cycle of addiction, and what keep us addicted until we realize we need help. This information is important because epigenetic changes can be inherited. As a result, children could be more inclined to participate in the same risky behavior as their parents. It should be noted, however, that these effects are reversible. Epigenetic changes are a response to a stressful environment, and if that environmental stress is eliminated, then over time the DNA code will return to its original state. This means that even though my mom is a little crazy and getting crazier all of the time, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be crazy, too! On second thought, maybe I am overestimating the power of epigenetics.

Related Article: Tetrachromacy, Supervision Genes

The media isn’t done with epigenetics by the way. Last April, news broke that Universal Pictures is planning a sequel to the movie Twins. The sequel, which will be called Triplets, will revolve around DeVito and Schwarzenegger discovering that they have another long lost brother, who is set to be played by…Eddie Murphy. While this is a bit of a stretch in regards to how drastic of an effect environmental factors have on gene expression, it is clear that the field of epigenetics is set to have a major impact on our bodies and how we understand them.

Now that we have this information about epigenetics, I think I am going to go home and be nicer to my mom. You never know when your DNA will decide there is such a thing as Karma and bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, “like mother, like daughter!”










On the Pulse About Perfume

For most people in the world, dabbing on a spot of perfume or cologne in the mornings is a part their morning routine. Many of us have heard that maxim made famous by style icon Coco Chanel: “A woman should wear perfume wherever she wants to be kissed.”

Romanticism aside, the general consensus on this has been that perfume should be worn on the pulse points in order to lengthen the life of the perfume. However, Elizabeth Barrial, a perfumer at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in North Hollywood, California says:

The body heat generated by pulse points helps intensify fragrance, and can often diffuse, magnify and amplify a scent, but it won’t affect the longevity. Perfumes will generally be stronger on someone with oily skin and good circulation whose body runs a little hotter.”

For longevity, she suggests spritzing it in your hair.

Hair is great at retaining scents (both good and bad). Dr. Michael Roizen answers a question on the smell of smoke lingering in hair over at sharecare.com:

…your hair acts like a paper towel—it’s absorbent. And hair also often has a mild electric charge, particularly in very low humidity, and this can attract charged pollutant particles. So in a nutshell, your hair takes the stink from the air, and brings it home with you.

If you opt to go the hair route, make sure you only do this with clean hair, as About.com’s Catherine Helbig warns that “natural oils (and any lingering hair products) will affect the odor.”

Also, not all scents work for everyone. TLC Style’s Alia Hoyt advises to

carefully test each scent before making a public debut. Many physical factors, like body chemistry and skin type, can alter the impression of any fragrance, rapidly changing a soft, sweet scent into a sour or overpowering one.

And for those of you out there who like to spray scent onto your wrists and rub them together—don’t. From eHow Style:

Do not rub perfume into skin. Doing so will break down some of the molecular composition (or “bruise”) the perfume.

On a similar note, some perfumes can stain clothing, it is recommended that you apply fragrances before dressing.

Go forth and eliminate B.O!

Is there a benefit to applying fragrance to pulse points?
Why does my hair smell like smoke after being around smokers?
How and Where to Apply Perfume to Make It Last Longer
Why Do You Put Fragrances on Your Pulse Points

Beans, Cool! What Makes Beans so Great?

BEANS! Glorious beans.

Well, folks, I have to admit something to you all. It has been a part of my life for some time now and frankly I’m at a loss. You see I have this problem- well it really is more than one problem. I have many problems. Tiny little problems. They’re a bit smaller than most marbles and generally larger than most seeds. I’m talking about good-old-fashioned-beans. And, with great apology, I must admit that I don’t think they’re a problem at all.

Did you know that on our home world Earth lays claim to over 40,000 different varieties of beans? Ranging from that start-of-the-day ground up coffee bean to the stew-simmering-supper-time Lima bean, beans are everywhere (check your pockets).

By the way, if you’re interested in growing lima beans there are plenty of ways to do that. Though, now that I think about it, you should probably wait until the start of next season. It’s never to early to get your bean poles!

There are also plenty of delicious recipes for the wonderful Lima bean. It could be as easy as throwing together some lemon-mint snap peas & lima beans or you can get real crazy and muster up the terrifyingly awesome and really not all that complicated herbed lima bean hummus. Beans!

Recipes aside, beans aren’t just a tasty little treat. They don’t just fill us up with joy and utmost inner peace for no apparent reason. The fact of the matter is this: beans are healthy (…and delicious).

Adzuki beans, one of my six favorite types of beans, are, you guessed it, a kind of bean! No beans about it! Beans! Here are some nutritional facts according to Lance Armstrong’s website.

Adzuki beans are a nutrient-dense food, providing a hefty amount of nutrients compared to their caloric content. They are a good food source of folate, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc.

They’re also an excellent source of BEANS!
But beans aren’t only found in foodstuffs. You see, beans are also found in cultural outlets such as art. One such bean-laden work of physical expression is the Chicago’s Cloud Gate or more commonly referred to as, that’s right, The Bean.

The structure weighs 100 tons and measures 10 meters high and 20 meters wide (33 x 66 ft). People can walk through the 3.7 meter high central arch, where they can look up to the large ‘dent’ and see numerous distorted reflections of themselves.

That’s 99 tons more than these guns. Though some say (none on record) that Chicago Cloud Gate beans are just as nutritious as any other bean, many have attempted to digest them to no avail.


Bean Sources: