Have you ever wondered why twins can be non-identical, or perhaps you develop something that is not inherited by your parents? this is known as Epigenetics. Epigenetics can be defined as ‘the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself‘. This sounds complicated, but can be broken down to be understood more clearer.
Did you know? There are over 100,000 skin cells in one square centimetre of skin, and each one of these cells contain around 2 meters of DNA containing our genetic information. The genetic material in our bodies is known as a ‘genome’.
All the cells in our body contain the same DNA sequence. Whether this is our skin cells, muscle cells or liver cells; the sequence is the same even though these cells have different structures and different functions. So if the DNA is the same, why do each type of cells work differently? This is because different cells only express certain genes. Our DNA and something known as a ‘histome’ can be tagged by small chemicals which modify gene expression. This causes some genes to be turned ‘on’ and some genes to be turned ‘off’. For example, a liver cell will turn on the genes a liver cell requires, but turn off genes a muscle cell would need; this is known as Epigenetic modification.
Here are some facts about Epigenetics:
Did you know?
Epigenetics is what makes us unique: Because of the fact different genes are turned on and off in different people, this results in us being different. From our taste buds to the way we are socially, to our physical features like skin colour and hair; this comes down to which genes are switched on and off.
Epigentics is reversible: If we could find the reasoning behind different combinations of genes being turned on and off, bad genes can be reversed which could lead to finding cures to cancer, obesity, health problems and even slow the process of ageing.
Epigenetics are everywhere: From what we do, what we eat and where we live, how healthy and active we are, these could overtime cause chemical modifications to these genes causing them to switch on and off overtime. For cancers and illnesses like Alzheimers, these genes are switched into the opposite state, away from the usual or healthy state.
Different habits can induce Epigenetic changes: Did you know? if a woman smokes while pregnant, this could lead to Epigenetic changes in three generations all at one time. Once in the mother, once in her unborn child and once in her child’s reproductive cells. This is why it is important to not smoke while pregnant.
Epigenetics sound like a complicated concept but as a matter of fact, broken down, it is much easier to understand. The human body is a fascinating system and learning how different parts of it function makes us want to treat it in the best way possible.