What if you were told that you couldchange your DNA? All living organisms have DNAand it’s all the same biological molecules, but it’s the order of the lettersin the genetic code that makes each organism different. The human genome contains over a billion letters and thousandsof these genes can be found within the genes codes for proteins, and is themost complex molecule of the human body. The scientific definition for DNA(deoxyribonucleic acid), it is a self-replicating material in nearly all livingorganisms as the main constituent of chromosomes (Lippincott,Williams & Wilkins, 2013). Itis the carrier of genetic information. What does this mean in relations to altering its ability to carry agenetic message about an individual to the world? Can that message be decoded and altered? DNAcan be replicated in molecular biology; DNA replication is the biologicalprocess of producing two identical replicas of DNA from one original DNAmolecule.
Theprocess occurs in all living organisms and is the basis for biologicalinheritance because DNA is made up of a double helix of two complementarystrands. Eachgene is different at producing proteins of differentshape and chemical composition responsiblefor multiple functions in a cell which includes structural proteins, such as thosewhich form hair, skin and muscle. We have hormonalproteins that transmit signals through our body,which helps to coordinate and control certain bodily activities such as metabolism and effects on the glucose levels in blood and urine and the enzymes of the redblood cell plasma membrane. The DNA in our body containsinformation the human body needs to function properly. There are also environmental factors that affectand influence the activation of some of our DNA and the regulation of thoseproteins that transmit signals throughout our body.
Our decision making,emotions, nutrition and social context all influence our perception andresponses to the world, our internal world of “expressed” genes. When we makehealthy lifestyle choices we support the activation of “good” genes. I began to learn more about this newscience of epigenetics during my interview with Dr.
Jefferey Ward, M.D. an Genetic Counselorand Educator at Northeast GeorgiaMedical Center (NGMC). His work and passion has servedhumanity through health education, healing practices, scientific research, andmedical intervention. He shares practical lifestyle changes and good healthmanagement to patients that are interested and receptive, thus allowing those environmentalinfluences to alter or change our genes. Many people falselybelieve that the DNA we inherit is the sole determinant for ourhealth and well-being, but researchers have found that this theory of genericdeterminism to be flawed and misleading.
The human evolution ofbiological systems and genetic variation are affected by forces working outsidethe DNA sequence, including intracellular, environmental and energeticinfluences (citation). Dr. Jefferey Ward, M.D.
continues to discuss the important difference between genetic determinism and epigenetics: “Genetic determinism is defined by the lifestylewe live. Our physical traits, physiological and emotional characteristics, are allwired our genetic code. So, if our genes are controlled by the lifestyle welead than our lives are influenced by outside forces beyond our human ability.Its propagated to believe that diseases and illnesses are inherited throughfamily attributes” (citation). Clinical andlaboratory evidence shows this is not true. In the early 1990’s the Human GenomeProject was launched and completed in 2003. The mission detailed therelationship between human genes and their interactions, which today continuesto serve as the basis for curing diseasesand conditions.
This entire techniquerevealed how the human body has fewer genes than researchers previouslybelieved, those genes do not operate as previously predicted. Epigenetics encompasses farmore than DNA sequence structure and gene expression, it’s our natural environmentand significant life experiences.After decades of study, researchers have discovered that other factors likelove and appreciation or anxiety and anger influence and alter the outcome of anindividual’s DNA blueprint. An experiment, conducted by The Institute of Heart Math in Boulder Creek, California, theselect participants were able to prove the mind-body connection irrefutable,emphasizing how human thoughts andintentions have astonishingpower to change our world. Researchers have found that the changes ingenetic expression in response to environmental factors also includes our unconsciousthoughts, attitude, perceptions and core beliefs. According to (NAME)on how our feelings regulate genetic expression, we live in a mechanicaluniverse and our body is a biological machine thatneeds to be maintained and nurtured, so by making minor changes, you canmodify your health. When we expose our body to chemical substances our bodyresponds by readjusting to those components in drugs that modify your machinery, so any form ofmodern medicine will find the gene responsible and be able to modify andcontrol your health.
(citation) The biggest dilemma with believing thismyth is that one will get stuck in a victim mentality believing of the physical or mental characteristics genetically passeswith each generation, by their family genes dictate your life, and sincewe cannot change our genetic information of our parents, then thatmeans our life is beyond human power or controltherefore, you have very little control over your heredityand environment just the personal choicesand behavior that shape and direct your own genetic readout. Whatepigeneticist have revealed is we are in fact an extension of our environment,which includes our emotions, spiritual beliefs, nutrition and exposure to chemicals. The human body has tumor suppressor genes,and these genes can protect other cells fromprogressing into cancer, working with the alkaline proteins called”histones” in our body As Dr. (NAME) at the (M.D. AndersonCancer Center) explains, “histones arerich in amino acids and have a positive charge which can cause them to bind to DNAwhich has a negative charge. This will allow a tumor suppressor gene to form astructure and cancer cells to proliferate.
” (citation). Epigenetics is exceptionally important in nutritionand detoxification because it can modify the essential components thatregulate gene expression during biological development, without altering theunderlying DNA sequence. By regularly consuming healthy foods, you amplify the body’s natural ability to defendagainst tumors and kill diseases. There is increasingevidence showing that environmental and lifestyle factors influence epigeneticmechanisms, such as DNA methylation, histone modifications and microRNAexpression. Theresults of inform intervention development and stimulate research into humandisease. For instance, the evolution of recombinant DNA technology (citation) are rapidly transforming the study of human genetics, ultimatelyallowing scientists to study the detailed structure and functions of individualhuman genes, as well as to manipulate these genes in a variety of previouslyunimaginable ways.
Not long ago, data from physicalanthropology (including information about skin color, body build, and facialtraits) were the only source of information available to scientist interestedin human evolution but researchers, today, have a wealth of genetic data,including molecular data, to support their work. Thegood news about disease prevention is that youcan control your genes. Every day you are in control of theenvironment and lifestyle that dictates your tendency to increase diseasetolerance at the epigenetic level.
When a health problem occurs, according toepigenetic therapy, you must remind those affected cells, of its healthyfunction, so they can revert to being normal healthy cells before anydisease, disorder,or pathological manifestation. In leading a healthy lifestyle, withphysical exercise, intake of nutrient dense foods, limit exposure to environmentaltoxins and chemical substances, and by maintaining a positive mental outlook,you influence the activities of those genesto express a positive, disease-fighting behaviorswhich is what preventive medicine focuses on with individuals, communities and defined populations. It not about prescribinga supplement to fix your biological machinery but to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-beingand to prevent disease, disability, and death. When more people become educatedand willing to embrace this truth, healthier everyone will become. Researcher have used two approaches tohelp investigate and understand the biological basis of heredity and cellstructure. First it would involve combiningtwo organisms ofdifferent breeds, varieties, species or generations through sexual reproductionand analyzing the offspring’s’ traits to develop scientific theory aboutthe biological mechanisms of inheritance, proving that some genetic conditions or traits, will follow a fewdefinite and simple rules. Changes in the human genomeare slow in process but diverse and adaptive.
Through epigenetic inheritance,depending on the parents’ environmental conditions it may reflect within theoffspring without altering the DNA sequence therefore, it would take manygenerations before a genetic trait can become dominant within a population. The second approach provide a foundationfor more a conceptual understanding of inheritance by using cytologictechniques to study or manipulate the molecularmachine and the process of cell division and cell reproduction. In the 20thcentury, cytologists were able to demonstrate that genetic information is a result of biological continuity; transmittinggenetic information from one generation to the next generation, with compellingevidence to support the central roles that DNA plays in heredity (citation). Epigenetics is about genetic control and physiologicaltraits. Researchershave found identical mice or identical twins are perfect subjects for conducting research work for understandinghuman development and progression of human disease.
It regulates the patterns of gene expression, it explains whysome people have an autoimmune disease or why identical twins are not perfectlyidentical. Such factors are a part of normal physiology of growthhormone while others contribute to a disease. As science and technology evolves researchersare learning more, testing medical treatments and using that knowledge to treatcertain diseases and cancers, according to (NAME), oneof the University of Georgia geneticists explainedthe study like this: “The most effective way to see the results ofepigenetics is by differences in identical twins. Identical twins have the exactsame genome. Even in human twins there is usually certain physical featuresthat allow others to tell them apart. One mouse can be large with white fur,and its twin can be obese with brown fur.
, scientists have theorized thatcertain genes get turned on while others do not. Environmental influences can alsochange the amount of DNA methylation, thus affect physical development. This isalso true with mental illness. If one twin has a mental illness, the other twinwill have a 50/50 chance of developing the same illness because they haveidentical genomes.
” (citation) Mice are convenient mammals for testingbecause researchers can observe the targetactions and the effects of environmental exposure. But it remainsuncertain what exactly DNAmethylation and histone modificationwould do to humans since a direct study in a controlled setting would expose apopulation of women and their children to harmful substances. One example of anatural experiment of how outside influences have affected the offspring wasduring the during World War II when the food supply became scarce the womenthat starved or malnourished during their last trimester had underweight babiesor miscarriages. Furthermore, the babies that were born with at a low birthweight, remained underweight throughout their lives, and the normal-weightbabies were more likely to become overweight into adulthood, suggesting thatsome aspect carried on into the next generation. (citation) Mice are not the only mammals that havebeen tested on. There’s been major debate in epigenetics with cloning when researchersin Scotland created Dolly by taking genetic material from an adult sheep cell,placing it into an unfertilized sheep egg and then being implanted into asurrogate mother sheep to be brought to term; policymakers and ethicists from aroundthe world began debating on Dolly’s cloning because of safety ad ethnicalconcerns over the procedure itself that would potentially be used in a similarmanner on humans. These ethnic and safety concernsfocused more on failed outcomes, high risk and potential harm inflicted onhumans, since the success rate for cloned mammals has been poor. Cloned animalsare more likely to die within weeks of birth or abnormal offspring.
Dolly diedat age 6; when the average sheep lives 12 years, but researchers are making everyeffort to improve the success percentage. When the FDA approved meat and dairyproducts from cloned animals be safe; agriculturalist and farmers began producingmore cloned livestock with desirable genetics, increasing production andbreeding stock. Beyond safety concerns, religious conservatives haveconcerns that the Dolly experiment could eventually lead to human embryos neverfully intended for life. Researchers conducting therapeutic cloning will createembryos that are a source of embryonic stem cells that could be used toregenerate tissues or organs in human patients. This newer cloning technique hasreceived a lot of controversy over its ethical issues about using embryoniccells to manipulate embryonic-like stem cells from skin cells. As for human cloning, the NationalBioethics Advisory Commission in the United States declared it morallyunacceptable shortly after the birth of Dolly. The commission based its decisionon the potential risk and safety concerns to humans, in which it was recommendedfor legislatures to adopt a resolution banning human cloning.
Congress heldhearings on human cloning but never passed legislation.(citation)Beginning with the discovery of thestructure of DNA and accelerating significantly with the development ofrecombinant DNA techniques, these scientific approaches helped researchers tohave a direct understanding of human genetic variation, unlike before, theywould make inferences about gene expression and function. These limitationsmade identifying and studying genes in humans a very long and tediousprocess. There are even more powerful techniques onthe horizon that researchers expect will have a formidable impact on the futureof scientific research and clinical genetics. One technique is, DNA chip technology (microarraytechnology), a revolutionary new tool designed to identify tens of thousands ofgenetic expressions in one experiment.In one application, the chip isdesigned to detect gene mutations in one gene. The DNA microchip consist of asmall glass plate encased in plastic. It is manufactured using a process like acomputer microchip.
It contains synthetic single-stranded DNA sequencesidentical to that of the normal gene and all possible mutations of that gene. (NAME) To determine whether an individual possessesa mutation in the gene, a researcher must first obtain a blood sample. Afterdenaturing, or separating, the DNA samples into single strands and manageablefragments, the researcher will label the fragments with fluorescent dyes: theperson’s DNA with red dye and the normal DNA with green dye. Both sets oflabeled DNA can hybridize, or bind, to the synthetic DNA on the chip.
(citation) If the person does not have a mutationin the gene, both DNA samples will hybridize equivalently to the chip and thechip will appear uniformly yellow. If a person does have a mutation, willappear red. DNA microarray technology has allowed researchers to probe furtheron complex functional relationshipsin cell activity between thousands of genes to confirm that a mutation ispresent. (citation). Although researchersare continuing to refine this general approach to gene therapy, new approaches continueto emerge. One new strategy that researchers are hoping will be used to correct geneticdefects is called chimeraplasty. Chimeraplasty uses synthetic strands of RNA and DNA sequences tostimulate genes normal DNA repair mechanisms to remove and substitute thecorrect one.
Currently, chimeraplasty is still in development mode and clinicaltrials are underway. (citation).