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Discovering Epigenetics

This is not a peer reviewed description of epigenetics.

I think the most interesting bit of science that I’ve learnt about recently – and it’s not really a discovery because it’s a whole field that’s opened up – is the field of epigenetics which my sister has done quite a bit of work on, she’s a, um, a molecular scientist, biologist, a…she does stuff with DNA, right?  I can’t describe it.  She’s a microbiologist.  She’s also very small.  So she would be a normal biologist but she’s too small for that so she’s a microbiologist and, ah, epigenetics is fascinating.  It is the thing that so many people have been unable to grapple with because it is all about how your environment affects the way that your DNA, that you cannot change, actually expresses things.  So, you have all these genes in your DNA, you cannot change those genes but epigenetics is the study of those markers on top of your genes that affect how they work.  So which bits get switched on and off at different times.

So, previously, it’s been very difficult to understand why people are so different when they have similar DNA, or why twins end up so different when they’ve got exactly the same DNA.  And it’s because of epigenetics.  Instead you’ve got to understand why, when you have a genetic disposition to something, you can actually change your lifestyle, your environment, to reduce that risk and vice versa: if you have a very small propensity for heart disease there are things you can do with your lifestyle and your environment that will make that risk a huge amount bigger.

This is not a peer reviewed description of epigenetics – please don’t take any of this and put it in your PhD – but this to me is fascinating.  That your genetic future is not written in your genes.  It is not dictated by what is in every one of your cells.  It can be changed.  And your lifestyle up until this point has affected the way your genes affect you and in the future your choices can affect the DNA that’s inside you and how that affects you.  So it’s brought back for me this whole idea of your destiny.  It’s not written in your genes.  Your destiny is not already dictated.  And that, to me, is just a whole fascinating field that they’ve only just started to work out what on earth is going on.  I mean they’ve only just worked out what is in your DNA and now they’ve discovered there’s a whole heap of stuff that just chucks all that out the window really.

It’s never gonna finish is it?  Science.  It just keeps going on.  It’s so exhausting.