It is not only genes that give us a predisposition to various diseases. But our environment as well. The role played by the environment in the etiology of disease is known as epigenetics. Epigenetics is associated with modifications to genes rather than changes to our DNA sequence. Epigenetics is also reported to have the capacity to switch certain genes on and off, thus significantly impacting health outcomes because if the genes that need to remain healthy and vibrant are switched off then adverse health outcomes can certainly ensue. The environment effects are mediated through gene expression. For example, the effects that gene-environment interaction might have on say, mental health, are not only common but they are consequential as well because all organisms do not respond to their environmental change in the same manner. This trait known as within-species variation in response to environmental change involves differences in the genetic endowment of each individual organism.
One disease that is best understood through the study of epigenetics is cancer. Scientists at Sydney’s Garvan Institute indicated that they had identified an epigenetic process which is linked to breast cancer. A comparison of malignant cells with normal cells revealed that the cancer-fighting gene, P16, had been turned off in the malignant cells via a process known as DNA methylation. Scientists are hopeful that it might be possible, in the future, to reverse epigenetic changes linked to cancer, a process that is not possible in genetics.
This is how epigenetics affects our health: During the early developmental stage it is possible for epigenetic marks to pass from parent to the offspring in a manner that completely bypasses the egg and sperm, and avoids the epigenetic purging that happens during early development. This means that inheritance does not only happen through the DNA from the parents, but that the experiences of the parent in the form of epigenetic tags can also be passed down to succeeding generations, also as a form of inheritance. The implications of such occurrences for public health include the fact that there will be need to act quickly as far as implementing intervention programs where there are environmental threats to health in order to prevent widespread epigenetic changes. This branch of genetics is still being widely researched.
God commanded ancient Israel to keep their environment clean. It was not only good stewardship with spiritual benefits, but good environmental and social responsibility as well as sound sanitary habits for enhancing optimum health (Deuteronomy 23: 12). When the environment is polluted in any manner, our health gets polluted as well.
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