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MAGAZINE / Jan-Feb 2008 / Epigenetics: A New Search Begins

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Epigenetics: A New Search Begins

By Angela Medieros, Staff Writer 
(Page 1 of 2)

Epigenetics: A New Search Begins

Caregivers have watched their loved ones, and the changes in them, wondering if these same characteristics have been passed on to them.  Epigenetics, a term around for some time, is the study of traits that are passed without a change in the DNA sequence.

Jargon abounds in the medical field.  “Methylation of genes,” “cytocysteines,” and other words that require several trips to the dictionary to get to the next part of the sentence complicate understanding medical concepts.

What these terms can mean to caregivers, especially in the field of epigenetics, is what can be done to treat syndromes by shutting on or off different characteristics within the cell’s structure.

In 2002, Science Daily reported that an enzyme was found to “silence” or shut off a particular gene.  Some cancers hold certain traits that, when activated, create a dangerous army to attack the body.  By silencing or shutting off the trait, the army of deadly cells is kept at bay.

When we go back to the term “methylation,” we can substitute “marker” in its place.  The enzyme discussed in Science Daily is an example of an enzyme that “marks” which gene it encounters.  This marker can keep cancers that are normally non-aggressive in that state.  Losing the marker changes the behavioral characteristic of the cancer cell, allowing it to become aggressive and move out of control.  Cells can also be “marked” or “tagged,” creating adverse health conditions.

Because of epigenetics, it has been possible to study how genes passed from parent to child, and even shared between identical twins, can allow different diseases to spring from this “unchanged” DNA.  However, even DNA changes somewhat in identical twins.  In a study done on identical twins at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, Spain (2005), blood samples were drawn from forty pairs of identical twins of varying ages (3-74). 

Through the magic of science, the blood was spun down and separated, until the cotton candy-like DNA was left.  The DNA was amplified until the genes became detectable. 

In an interesting twist of DNA destiny, when the gene “slices” from twins were laid upon one another, it was found that there was more deviation in the older groups of twins.  Lifestyle, habits, and environmental factors change greatly as we mature and expand our interests, tastes, and
world experience.  In our youth, there is generally more control over where we go and the things we consume, and are exposed to.

Looking back at the 1960’s movie “The Graduate,” one of the characters says the future of the world is summed up in one word:  plastics.  Currently, the amount of plastics in our society has expanded beyond anything the 60s filmmakers or society could have imagined.  There’s now possible evidence that plastic can change the ability of the “marker” to label the cell, which may be connected to obesity.  Studies haven’t rubber stamped the information to the point where we’ve removed plastics, but it poses an interesting question on the environment affecting our bodies.

Before we go dumping our department store plastic ware, blaming our weight on it, we need to take a closer look at all aspects of our lifestyles.  Where obesity is concerned, it’s also what goes in our mouth as well as the tools we use to put those things in it.

Vitamins, minerals, the additives in the foods we eat affect us to the cellular level.  However, when we begin looking for answers on “what does what,” we can find conflict in not only advertising, but research.  What then?  We can rely on our family doctors to help us sort out this information, and in our own searching, consider the sources.

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