Epigenetics deals with environmental influences on a person’s DNA. These influences can lead to developmental problems and disease. Those who study epigenetics examine the chemical reactions that “activate and deactivate the genome” and possible influences upon these reactions. Changes in gene expression occur during development and are important to differentiation. When genes are turned on and off, cells read a person’s DNA differently, which affects a person’s development. When the environment starts to mess with the gene expression, the cell reads the genes incorrectly by perhaps not making a certain protein, or by not expressing a certain trait. These environmental influences that affect genes can be many different things such as exercise, eating habits, where you live, sleep, aging, and social life. People can gain different combinations of genes expressions and pass those combinations down to their children. Epigenetics plays a great deal in our function, and in some cases can lead to a genetic disorder.
One of my case studies deals with the affects of epigenetics. This case is about identical twins that are not entirely identical. One twin, Elise, is a normal young adult, and the other twin, Shannon, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This disease is not entirely caused by a genetic disorder like any other genetic disease is, but several genes can increase a persons risk for the disease. Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that deals with a persons thought process. Someone diagnosed with this disease might hear voices, behave strangely, or think someone is controlling their mind. In this case, Elise is concerned about her risk for a mental disorder and goes to talk to her doctor about it. She finds out that schizophrenia has about a 50% chance of being inherited, and that she has a greater risk because she shares Shannon’s DNA. However, her doctor explains that it is a lot more complicated than your usual genetic disease caused by ¨bad genes¨, and that a person’s environment is a factor involved in causing schizophrenia. This brings up the study of epigenetics and environmental influences. It is possible that Elise’s sister experienced a different environment than her. With different jobs, teachers, and summer camps, Shannon is influenced by different surroundings. With epigenetics in affect, Elise could be free from being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Knowing that the environment can have an impact on our genes really supports the reasoning behind variation. I had no idea that your surroundings could cause you to turn genes on and off. It makes me wonder about what my environment has done to my genes. Epigenetics is a new and different view in genetics. I believe the more we study it, the more uses we could find for it. For example, in the case study, the doctor talks about how epigenetics could be used as a therapy for people with conditions such as schizophrenia. Interactions between the environment and genes can open up an entire new way to sure or help a person diagnosed with mental diseases. Genetics continues to open up new doors of possibilities for those who have a genetic disease. It’t possible that we could eventually be able to pin down specific genes and their relationship to the environment. This could open up new treatments for those with a genetic disease and bring up new ideas like genetic revision. I believe the future of epigenetics is bright, and that we should continue to research and thoroughly understand the relationship between specific genes and the environment.
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Jaenisch, R., & Bird, A. (2003). Epigenetic regulation of gene expression: How the genome integrates intrinsic and environmental signals. Retrieved June 3, 2015, from http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v33/n3s/full/ng1089.html
Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression and Affect Long-Term Development. (2010). Retrieved June 3, 2015, from file:///home/chronos/u-495145656908d08974816961846d7bbad3c39029/Downloads/WP10.pdf
Epigenetics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2015, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/