Many individuals who have had family members pass away from cancer or other diseases, are in fear that their genes are predisposed to the same illness. This is a common belief still held by millions – even though it has been scientifically proven that DNA is not set in stone, and that our relationship to the environment has the greatest impact on the function of our genes.
Why then do so many people still believe that their genes hold a certain destiny over their life and health when science knows otherwise?
Fear vs knowledge provide two very different outcomes, and for this reason I have chosen to write about our DNA and what the new discoveries of epigentics can mean for your health and life. I will attempt to explain this information as logically and clearly as possible! In Part 1 we will start off with the basics and build up ward.
Very Brief History: In 1910 scientists discovered chromosomes held genetic hereditary information that was passed down to ‘daughter’ cells in the replication and dividing process. In 1944 it was recognized that the hereditary information within the chromosomes was actually the DNA, but it wasn’t until 1953 when DNA took its supreme title as the genetic ruler of human biology. James Watson and Francis Crick unraveled the double helix structure and discovered that DNA was subdivided into single genes, which held the blueprint building block for the entire body. The discovery was ground breaking, “On Feb. 28th 1953, Francis Crick walked into the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England and as James Watson later recalled, announced ‘We have found the secret of life.” (Time Magazine 1999) Everyone thought Watson and Crick had hit the winning lottery on unlocking the mystery of the human body and they were given the Nobel Peace Prize for their discovery.
Their discovery was remarkable I am not minimizing that! However, the BIG problem was Watson and Crick discarded a very important piece of the genetic program – the histone proteins which the DNA tightly coiled itself around. Have you ever heard of histones? Most likely not, even though they are an integral component of how genes operate in our body. Histones are proteins and since the body is made up of over 100,000 different kind of proteins, the histones must not have seemed that important compared to the complexity and elegance of the DNA’s genes, and thus were tossed out in the early studies of genetics, disease and heredity.
Simply put scientist thought DNA controlled the entire biology of the human body, and that all traits – desirable and undesirable were at the mercy of an individuals DNA that was unchangeable. But this theory quickly had major missing gaps. For instance each gene has the sequence code of a particular protein that has a specific job in which to build different tissues to preform certain duties in the body. The estimate was there would be at least 120,000 different genes to match the amount of proteins in the body. But when scientists discovered there were only 25,000 genes … something didn’t add up! Even more so when the human genome was compared to other way less evolved organisms:
The primitive Caneorhbditis worm has precisely 969 cells and a simple brain of about 302 cells. Nonetheless it consists of approximately 24,000 genes. The human body, comprised of over fifty trillion cells, contains only about 1,000 more genes than the lowly, spineless, thousand-celled microscopic worm. (Lipton, Biology of Belief)
This was the first clue that perhaps the Holy Grail of DNA wasn’t what it was cracked up to be because it was no longer possible for only 25,000 genes to fix, create and build the complexity of the human body – there simply weren’t enough genes.
Through this process scientist went back to the drawing board to see if the proteins the DNA wrapped themselves around were actually a factor in how genes operate. What they found was that histone proteins are incredibly important and elegant in the structure and function of genes, “They are the chief protein components … acting as spools around which DNA winds and play a role in gene regulation.” (Wikipedia) How do histone proteins have control over gene regulation? Or more simply put – why would histones effect whether a gene is able to be read or not? This brings us to the field of Epigentics!
Epigentics means “control above genes” and is the science of understanding how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity through histones and other proteins. These proteins respond to signals going on in the environment and determine whether a gene is able to be read or not. Epigentics reveals that the activity of our genes are constantly being modified in response to our experiences throughout life. Which means our DNA, is not as previously thought – set in stone, “Genes are not destiny! Environmental influences, including nutrition, stress, and emotions can modify genes.” (Lipton Biology of Belief) Infact, it is estimated that only about 2% of human diseases are actually due to defective genes and that the rest of disease is linked to what is going on in the environment. (Strohman 2003 Journal of Social Work Education)
I’ll wrap up Part 1 with a brief description of how proteins can effect the structure and readability of genes. And for those who love to learn through videos – I found one that gives a basic description as well of this process which I put in at the bottom.
For those who are interested in understanding the next level of this elegant story and learning about how you -the perciever, plays an integral role in how your genes function, you can sign up for the news letter and receive the next post as soon as it comes out. The story definitely grows more beautiful and interesting as we move along.
Okay back to how proteins effect your genes! I am a nerd with this stuff so it is exciting to me! : )
DNA is tightly coiled around histones and depending on the spacing between these proteins determines if a gene is able to be read or not. For example if the spacing is good the genes can be read, but if the histones are coiled tightly there is no way to access and read the gene. Other proteins attach onto the DNA turning the gene on or off by covering it up totally or partially, varying the way in which a gene is read.
For example: a signal picked up in the environment sends information into the cell to tell a protein to turn a gene on or off – or partially cover the gene. If a gene is partially covered it leads to a variation of how a gene can be read, “studies of protein synthesis reveal that epigenetic ‘dials’ can create 2,000 or more variations of proteins from the same gene blueprint.” (Bray 2003 Molecular Prodigality, Science)
This may explain where a human body, made up of only 25,000 genes (1,000 more genes than a primitive thousand celled worm) can develop its remarkable intelligence, ability and function – through the conscious awareness of the ‘perciever’ whom creates a kaleidoscope of information out of the possibility of one gene.
More to come! Look out Part 2 or sign up for the newsletter to receive Part 2.