There’s a new San Diego Epigenome Center in La Jolla. Why do some nutritionists think that the idea of nature versus nurture is taking backstage to the new science of epigenetics, especially when it’s applied to individually tailored foods and environments?
There’s more to genes than just DNA. It’s genomic imprinting. Genes have a memory of from where they came. The activity of genes is controlled by a switch. Whether those genes are turned on or off is called epigenetics. Does specific nutrition allow the switches on your genes to be turned on or off?
A little more than a year ago the National Institutes for Health (NIH) said it would put $190 million into a nationwide initiative to find out “how and when epigentic processes control genes.” For nutritionists and biologists, epigenetics is a central issue. See the Time magazine, January 18, 2010, article by John Cloud, “Why Genes Aren’t Destiny.” See: Epigenetics, DNA: How You Can Change Your Genes, Destiny – TIME.
There’s a relatively new Internet-based effort called San Diego Epigenome Center in La Jolla, CA. People working there are colleagues with or from the think tank, Salk Institute, founded by Jonas SalkJonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine. Nutritionists as well as the rest of the scientific community are joyful about the forthcoming book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong, by science writer, David Shenk.
The goal of the Epigenome Center is to eventually map the human epigenome. Ten years ago scientists mapped the human genome. But there are at least 210 cell types, and maybe a lot more, in humans. Each of the 210 or more cell types may have a different epigenome. How do nutritionists tailor food and fitness regimens to switch on or off the epigenetic marks on your DNA? How do those marks control your genes? What role does food have in controlling those tags?
Those are some projects scientists are still researching. The goal is to figure out all the epigenetic marks and how they all work together. When you understand this, only then can you really understand how your DNA doesn’t have to be your destiny. Epigentic changes made by environment, lifestyle, and diet represent a biological response to environmental stressors. The research will be ongoing for years.
More computing power is required, a lot more than scientists used in 2000 for mapping the human genome. The current age of the epigenome involves many more years of research. Metabolic and genetic dietitians are waiting for the results of studies such as looking back at studies of feast and famine years in different parts of the world and noting any links regarding the effects of them on the lifespan of the children and grandchildren.
The big picture is how to make a better mouse or human by adjusting the environment, diet, lifestyle, and easing the stress. It’s going to cost a lot of money. Mapping the human genome code cost more than $3 billion a decade ago.
Can you guess how many epigenetic patterns you have when you consider what kind of diet, exercise, or lifestyle to lead in order to make environmental changes to your DNA? The human genome contains a large number of patterns of epigenetic marks. The number is huge. In Europe, the Human Epigenome Project is underway.
The human genome map looks like a middle school science project in comparison to what the Epigenome project will be when done. DNA isn’t inflexible as you think. It can be changed by turning the epigenetic switches on or off by diet, exercise, lifestyle, environment, de-stressing, and other means.
Your food can in some ways tinker with your DNA. Nutrition can bend DNA to its will, maybe. That’s what science is exploring for now. This is the age of nutritional epigenetics. It’s going to take a lot of super computing power and money. But science is sure to find ways to map and organize your epigenetic potential.
Maybe you can start at the low-tech end with good food, some caloric restriction with ideal nutrition, the type of exercise that’s tailored to your body’s requirements, and an environment with less smoke and other pollutants.
Tell your kids not to try smoking. If they light up before puberty, it will, according to scientific studies, perhaps change the life span of their children for a few generations forward. The environment will imprint epigenetic marks on the male Y chromosome genes that sons will inherit.
And overeating perhaps will imprint epigenetic marks on the longevity genes on males and females for at least two or more generations, according to studies. Even memory can be improved via epigenetics from one generation to the next. See the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.