What are epigenetics and why do we care?

What are epigenetics?

“With its prefix from the Greek word epi, which means “in addition to,” this word relates to factors in addition to DNA base sequence that influence the function of genes” 

Epigenetic tags are chemical tags, e.g. methyl groups,  added to DNA that record the effects of experience, changing the gene expression.

“DNA sequencing is the order in which the four nucleotides (A,   C. T, or  G) are strung together on the DNA molecule.”

Epigenetics is a hot topic right now and appears more in news articles as science makes further associations. It is becoming more obvious that our lifestyle and experiences can affect our genes and can be passed down to our children and grandchildren through genetic pathways.

DNA is the blueprint for the instructions for the entire body, but chemical tags called methyl groups make up what is called the epigenome to decide which genes are active – this is called methylation or gene expression. It is often referred to as an “on and off switch” that turns on or off certain genes. It is what makes identical twins different over time. Although our DNA code does not change, the epigenome is flexible and reacts to our environment. Our experiences help shape how genes are expressed.

DNA methylation works by adding a chemical group to specific places on the DNA as “tags” where it blocks the proteins that attach to the DNA to “read the gene”. This chemical group can be removed through a process called demethylation. Typically, methylations turn genes “off” and demethylation turns genes “on”.

Women are not solely responsible for the health of their future children. Science is finding that the health of a man’s unborn children can be affected by things like the man’s diet, life experiences and trauma, exposure to toxins and how old he is at conception.

 Citation:

Why Should I Care About Epigenetics? Utah Valley Pediatrics, September 30, 2013

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