More Evidence for Epigenetic Controls on Genetics
Epigenetics has become a hot topic in biology. There are players “above DNA”– some heritable – that may be more important than the genetic code itself.
Unto the 3rd and 4th generation: A headline on Science Daily sounds almost Biblical: “Gene Mutations Caused by a Father’s Lifestyle Can Be Inherited by Multiple Generations.” Moses had said that a father’s sins can affect offspring; was he stating a fact of epigenetics unknown in his day? He was undoubtedly referring to spiritual effects, but it’s becoming apparent to scientists that “a father’s lifestyle has the potential to affect the DNA of multiple generations and not just his immediate offspring,” because changes in the regulation of genes can be passed on through the gametes of his children and their children.
Reversible damage: A paper in PLoS Biology states that epigenetic changes are reversible. Working with yeast, a team said, “The results presented here suggest that epigenetic control within an individual cell is reversible and can be achieved via regulation of histone acetyltransferase activity.” With the previous entry, this suggests that offspring are not doomed to suffer their father’s lifestyle problems.
Work out and modify your fat: Science Daily reported evidence that workouts make epigenetic changes to your fat cells. A researcher at Lund University in Sweden said, “Our study shows the positive effects of exercise, because the epigenetic pattern of genes that affect fat storage in the body changes.”
Work out and fix your nerves: Damage to neural stem cells from mutations can be reversed by exercise. That’s a finding announced in Medical Xpress: mutational damage to CHD7 (a gene that codes for an epigenetic regulator) that inhibits neurogenesis in mice, and presumably in humans, can be completely reversed by exercise: “After the running exercise the CHD7 mutant neurons were fully rescued: They were able to create functioning networks.”
The pursuit of happiness: Research reported on Science Daily shows that your body responds differently to “different kinds of happiness.” The “hedonic” kind (pursuit of pleasure, likened to “empty calories” in food) produces more stress, whereas the “eudaimonic kind” (the pursuit of purpose and noble meaning in life, as meant in the Declaration of Independence), produced less stress and greater sense of satisfaction with life. The effects can be measured in epigenetic markers on genes.
Extra layer of information: As you grow, epigenetics modifies the genes in your brain. An article on Medical Xpress says that epigenetic information adds to genetic information content:
Changes in the epigenome, including chemical modifications of DNA, can act as an extra layer of information in the genome, and are thought to play a role in learning and memory, as well as in age-related cognitive decline. The results of a new study by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies show that the landscape of DNA methylation, a particular type of epigenomic modification, is highly dynamic in brain cells during the transition from birth to adulthood, helping to understand how information in the genomes of cells in the brain is controlled from fetal development to adulthood. The brain is much more complex than all other organs in the body and this discovery opens the door to a deeper understanding of how the intricate patterns of connectivity in the brain are formed.
These and other recent stories represent a major paradigm shift in genetics. Gone is the old “Central Dogma” that considered genes the master regulators. The path of information flow is not simply DNA to RNA to protein anymore; it’s a much more dynamic, elaborate choreography, the intricacies of which scientists are only beginning to understand.
Needless to say, the discovery of “an extra layer of information” above DNA is worrisome to Darwinism but confirming of intelligent design. It’s also helpful to know that our actions and choices can affect our genes and those of our children.
We’ll take this opportunity to again promote the recent book on the subject by Woodward and Gills, The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA. Hear a podcast by Dr. Woodward on ID the Future. Watch a short presentation by Woodward and Gills on YouTube.