The development of the behavior of a human being is shaped by the interplay among parental practices, dietary habits, cultural practices as well as congenital characteristics. A novel contributor to behavioral development has been identified by scientists in the form of epigenetic inheritance, which is a process of transmitting parental phenotypic responses caused by the challenges of their environment to subsequent generations, according to Lawrence V. Harper in his article, Epigenetic Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transfer of Experience. This transfer can happen even when the offspring themselves may not be directly exposed to the same environmental challenges their parents faced because although the genetic inheritance may not have been altered the expression of the genes has. For example, environmental challenges such as maternal exposure to stressful events during the late stage of a daughter’s gestation is likely to have an adverse effect on the physical development of the daughter as well as that of the daughter’s offspring. Genes and the environment tend to co-act in the behavioral development of an individual so that phenotypic adjustments to environmental events in one generation can result in alterations in the phenotype of the subsequent generation.
Alcohol abuse is an environmental factor which scientists claim is capable of altering epigenetic signatures and gene expression. According to research by Wong and associates even a short-term abuse of a substance such as alcohol has been found to produce long-term epigenetic alterations via DNA methylation as well as histone modification. Epigenetics alterations of gene expression, in such cases, further increase the craving for more alcohol abuse in future, which in turn, increases epigenetic changes. Sadly, exposures to substance abuse by one generation can influence and impact the following generation as well. A research report by Walden and associates in their article, Trajectories of Change in Adolescent Substance Use and Symptomatology: Impact of Paternal and Maternal Use Disorders, suggests that both “paternal and maternal drug use had an addictive effect on the offspring’s drug use trajectory…” What this means is that exposure to substance abuse fosters transmissible epigenetic changes which are passed on to the offspring’s behavioral and physiological development. Because of these findings many are calling for policy enactment and educational campaigns by public health professionals and allied health professionals to spread the awareness among the general public about the inter-generational impact of drug abuse during their adolescent and childbearing phases of life. In epigenetics we inherit more than genes from our parents.
Scripture teaches us that we have a responsibility to keep our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. The Bible also shows us that our personal choices do not only affect us, but that they have a ripple effect that can affect our offspring either positively or negatively. Our sinful indulgences have a tendency to visit our subsequent generations with adverse consequences unless until they are mitigated by the Blood of the Lamb (Romans 5:19).
Molecular biology has successfully espoused and propagated a concept that some scholars call “The Central Dogma” which is a genetic deterministic approach that postulates that the transfer of an organism’s biological information is unidirectional, meaning that the information flows only in one direction: DNAà RNAàProteins. The implication of such as theory is that all our biological constitution is driven by our genetic code, and that we are mere helpless recipients of the genes we have been endowed with. But with the advent and growth of the discipline of Epigenetics this view has been further scrutinized and has been found wanting. Epigenetics is the study of the heritable changes that affect gene expression or the phenotype of an organism. These changes are not caused by underlying gene sequence. Rather, they can come through the modification of DNA through a process known as methylation and also through the activity of histones. A lot of diseases that have anomalous or aberrant gene expression as their main cause can be traced to the way the DNA of the organism is packaged. They can also be linked to actions of enzymes such as histone deacetylases.
All of us have tumor suppressor genes that are capable of stopping cancer cells from growing. Every cell in our bodies has these genes. But proteins known as histones are also present in our cells. Sometimes these histones can bind themselves to the DNA so tightly that the DNA becomes “hidden from the view of the cell,” according to Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa of MD Anderson Cancer Center. If a tumor suppressor gene becomes hidden, it cannot have the ability to perform its function. What this means is that the histone hugging the DNA has managed to turn off the gene that is a cancer suppressor, so that the cancer cells can grow freely.
But God in His mercy, has provided certain interventions to mitigate this process. He has provided certain foods that can counter the action of histones. For example, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and also garlic and onions happen to contain substances that are capable of inhibiting and countering histone activity, thus allowing the cancer suppressor genes to express themselves and perform their functions without hindrance. This is the reason why these foods are among the foods listed by the American Institute for Cancer Research as foods that protect against cancer. The more your diet is composed of these foods, the more your body is equipped to fight off cancerous tumors. This gives you a significant amount of power over the control of the expression of your genes. By adopting a healthy diet you can help release them to do their work effectively. Conversely, a high-fat, low-protein diet can modify epigenetic marks in a manner that can result in negative health outcomes extending to the next generation in both animal and human models. The Bible says “You shall eat no fat, whether from cattle, sheep or goats…” (Leviticus 7:23), and it also says “Whether you eat…do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). These laws are for our own benefit not for God’s benefit.
Check out this video clip on how epigenetics functions: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/intro/
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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