Nature vs. Nurture: Does Epigenetics have the answers?
Scientists have been debating for years about if your genes were the blueprint of your life and you had to follow it or if your environment made you who you were. It looks like Epigenetics has the answer.
What if you had an identical twin and you were put up for adoption and you were separated. You were both adopted by fairly well off parents, but when you were young your parents lost their jobs, you had to move to the bad part of town, you rebelled against authority, dropped out of high school and 20 years later ran into your twin. Your twins’ family stayed the way it was and they had had a fairly normal life, college a good job, a family. 20 years after you were born you and your twin would probably look alike, maybe some weight difference here, tattoo there but, essentially, you would look alike, your genes, however, wouldn’t be the same.
There is a long standing belief that your genes stay the same no matter the choices you make in your life. For example if you ate junk food, smoked and didn’t exercise you might become fat, get lung cancer or die young but those traits wouldn’t pass on to your children. Epigenetics says otherwise. Epigenetics, (literally, above genetics) studies the changes that your environment and your choices make to the way your DNA is expressed.
Your DNA doesn’t change, can’t change, but certain Methyl groups can attach themselves to your DNA and tell it, “express this gene”, “don’t express this gene”. There are also proteins called Histones that DNA winds itself around. When the DNA is wound tightly the genes are expressed less and if the genes are wound loosely the genes express themselves more.
Epigenetic changes remain after cell division and these changes tell each cell in your body what to do. Epigenetic changes aren’t permanent, they can change throughout your life and they can be passed on through generations.
Factors that affect epigenetic changes can be environmental, what you eat, how stressed out you are, if you smoke, in fact an study conducted found that if your grandparents went through times of famine you would be more likely to live a little longer then people whose grandparents went through times where food was plentiful. This is because people that have access to more food, are more likely to become overweight or develop diabetes, traits they could pass on to their children. Scientists also believe that the increase in other diseases, like cancers or autoimmune disorders, may be caused by epigenetic information.
So nature or nurture? It looks like the answer is both. Your genes determine what you look like, and may affect who you become but your decisions can change the way your genes affect you. Yes the decisions of your parents and grandparent leave their mark on you, but remember, the decisions you make will be affecting people a long, long time after you are gone.
Sana Kaur Dhingra, class 11C
Source – Epigenetics – SciShow