Epigenetics: You Determine Your Destiny
“The caterpillar has the exact same genes as the butterfly, but the genes are expressed differently depending on its given life stage.” The university that I attended did not have one or two libraries, but six large ones. The first time I set foot in its endless hallways of information, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. When I required a specific reference for a project, I amazingly managed to find it. I then proceeded to find the particular page I needed. Our genes work much like a library. They contain a plethora of information, which provides the body with instructions on how to operate. Your body can actually choose which genes to express, much like my library search. This well recognized phenomenon of ‘reading’ specific genes is called epigenetics. In an article published in Time magazine in 2010 entitled, “Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny,” the work of Dr. Lars Olov Bygren is explored. Dr. Bygren, a preventative-specialist and researcher, studied the effects of feast and famine on children growing up in the 1900s in Norrbotten, Sweden. He discovered that dietary and lifestyle conditions not only affected the genetic expression of each individual, but also that of their children and grandchildren. He concludes “it is through epigenetic[s]…that environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed from one generation to the next.” There are many great examples of epigenetics. In a beehive, thousands of worker bees serve the queen bee. The only difference between the queen bee and the worker bees is their food source. The queen bee is the only bee allowed to consume the protein-rich royal jelly. Although the queen bee is genetically identical to all of the other bees, she lives up to 28 times longer, grows three times larger and lays about 2000 eggs in her most fertile state. Another example of epigenetics is demonstrated with the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The caterpillar closes itself in a cocoon, at which time it completely dissolves, and then reforms into a butterfly. The caterpillar has the exact same genes as the butterfly, but these genes are expressed differently depending on its given life stage. Epigenetics tells us that we are in control of our genetic destiny. By choosing a healthy diet and lifestyle, we may influence optimal genetic expression for our own selves and generations to come. Josh Gitalis consults with clients worldwide, teaches clinical nutrition, and is a noted expert for various media outlets.