Epigenetics and the Hope it Provides

Professor Clayton briefly mentioned the subject of Epigenetics in class this week. He said it was a whole other subject and did not want to get too deep into it. However, after learning a bit about it this week, I decided that I would do the favor for him.

Much of my knowledge on epigenetics comes from a NOVA series which we are all familiar with. Here is the link to the video:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02.html

The basic concept behind epigenetics is that certain drugs can cause genes to express themselves stronger or weaker than they normally would. It is in essence a way to change individual genomes and change traits in future generations. It is a brand new science that will most likely lead to more changes than the discovery of the actual human genome will. Scientists expect many breakthroughs in the field and are currently mapping out the epigenome. More interesting to me is the humanistic side of epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the hopeful companion to the study of genetics. In a way it is more humanist as well. People use the phrase “bad genes” as the excuse for many of life’s shortcomings. It is very easy to blame bad genes for things like obesity or poor health, and while it may seem convenient, what epigenetics reveals is that it is really a cop out. The article in Time Magazine which I have posted below talks about how studies have shown that cboices made during the span of one’s life can directly affect gene expressions and character traits of offspring just a generation or two away. Excersise, healthy eating, not smoking, and many other things can go a long way towards increasing the chances for favorable gene expression it says.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1951968,00.html

(link to article)

To me this concept represents a hopeful thought for mankind. Darwin said that evolution and change come about after years and years of natural selection and after many generations of people have come and gone. This leaves mankinds prospects for change and evolution in a lifetime fairly grim. Certainly it would mean that if you are born into the world with an undesireable trait, say a disease or a tendency for obesity, then in all likelihood your offspring will be brought into the world with the same short coming. To me that would be discouraging. Through the use of drugs, scientists have found that they can cause genes to express themselves stronger or weaker than normal. To me this is exciting and provides more incentive to live a healthy lifestyle. Everyone wants to give their children favorable characteristics and the world of epigenetics provides hope that choices in this life can prevent our children from having to suffer from some of the hardships we may have endured due to our genes.

Epigenetics provides hope. Hope that we can make the world better for our offspring through healthy choices now. Bringing change is a good thing and not having to wait for years and years of evolution is good. Epigenetics will open up a whole new realm in the study of genetics that could pave the way to many of the science fiction scenes we see in films like Gattaca. It’s amazing when new discoveries such as epigenetics are made and it makes you wonder what else could be out there waiting to be discovered.

-Peter

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~ by letarteps on February 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “Epigenetics and the Hope it Provides”

  1. While viewing the NOVA special on genetics and reading a Brave New World, I couldn’t help but wonder where the gap lies between discovering the mutations that cause genetic defects and the complete fixing of the same genes. Somewhere there must be some source that examines the gap. Individuals with genetic disorders, as seen in the NOVA special, often question if they would like to know about their genetic mutations or not, especially if nothing can be done to fix said problems. However, there has to be a place after geneticists have discovered the problem gene but before they can fix it. How must that feel to someone with the genetic disorder?

    Epigenetics has many proponents, stating that such gene therapies can fix a multitude of problems, which it probably can. But if such problems are all eradicated, will we end up with a society much like a Brave New World? I can’t help but think that we would head in that direction.

  2. You raise some good points and things to think about. To address one part of your post, I feel that if I were someone with a genetic disease, and scientists had identified my problem gene but had not yet found a cure, I would at least find hope in the fact that scientists had made some progress in my specific disease and that they had taken the next step in finding a cure to my ailments.
    -Peter

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