The promise of epigenetics

Sequencing the entire human genome propelled our knowledge of genetics to a new level

and led to the creation of new terms ending with the suffix “ome”, meaning complete. The term genome therefore designates the entirety of the genetic material contained within our chromosomes. Genomics refers to the set of technologies which analyze our genes; transcriptomics describe the analysis of active genes; proteomics, the global analysis of all proteins.

Almost 99.8% of human DNA is identical in all of the human species, and our DNA differs from that of apes by only 2%; and yet… the differences are obvious! Similarly, this 0.2% variance between humans is what makes us all different, all unique, excepting monozygotic (identical) twins, who have exactly the same DNA. Not that long ago, we believed that everything came from our genes! We inherited our genes from our parents, which were mixed like we would shuffle  a deck of cards, and the result of this mix gave birth to our own genes, which made us, in a way, blending, gave us a unique personality. And that was it, our genes would stay static throughout our life. In actuality, this is not exactly right! It is true that the codes within our genes which are used to assemble our proteins are nearly written in stone within our 23 chromosome pairs, these libraries kept within the nucleus of each of our cells; but this big book of life, when read, is subject to our interpretation; just like a Beethoven symphony might be masterfully or blunderingly interpreted depending on the conductor and the musicians.

We have around 20,000 to 30,000 genes, very few of which are “coding” genes, that is, having assembly instructions. Some are active 24 hours a day, and manage those proteins which are essential to life: the heart, brain, kidneys. Most are inactive, or suppressed, and are only activated, or expressed, when necessary. But who decides when and where genes are activated, and how does this happen? Contrary to the widespread notion that we are programmed by our genetic code, scientists have shown that it is actually an index of datasets which can be activated or not, according to circumstances. Did you know that we therefore communicate with our genes every day, and that our genes are heavily influenced by what we tell them, and will act accordingly? Today, many researchers note that our actions, our experiences, our emotions, constantly shape gene expression. In fact, our ‘biological fate’ is only 30% determined by our genes, and 70% by our environment; this reality has led to a new field of study called “epigenetics”, which literally means “above” genetics. A gene can therefore be activated or deactivated, and the implementation of the instructions it carries will only take place if it is ordered and supplied with the necessary energy.


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