Discussion of an Epigenetics Article
In my opinion, epigenetics is the study of the various factors, both chemical and environmental, that possess the unique ability to influence a gene and its expression. These factors can range from the perinatal environmental conditions such as the kind of food the mother consumed when she was pregnant, stress she experienced, and, pre-natal factors including drugs, alcohol, and smoking before the pregnancy. All of these factors have an influence, in varying degrees, on how the genetic information carried by the child or an adult is expressed and modified.
I guess that similarly to me before watching that video, most of the people that have a basic knowledge of biology would assume that genes play vital role in controlling the expressed characters. Until recently, that opinion would have been absolutely right, but recent studies have shown that genes are actually controlled by other factors. The study of epigenetics, consequently, concerns the factors that control, or at least, have some influence on how genes function. I must admit that I was quite skeptical while watching the video and y reflecting on the issues it raised.
In just about every debate on health and psychology there are broadly speaking, two opposing camps that differ on the ideological pedestals of nature versus nurture. In the case of epigenetics, this proves to be true. Twins, as we know, are genetically, mirror images of each other and thus it follows that having a duplicate of genetic material, it then is possible to study the effect of exposure to various environments and conditions on their health. Thus, when two such identical people suffer from very different conditions, we have a unique opportunity to study the nature versus nurture influence on their individual conditions.
The kind of food we eat, its availability and quality, as well as the stresses we are exposed to in our daily lives have an impact on the future generations. The information that I gained after watching the video was surprising. In the video, they way in which the genes exist and interact was described. Though, it was away from the classical understanding that the genes are self-sufficient. It explained how special activators direct each gene in terms of what to do or what kind of cell to produce. In a normal case, this would not be a problem, but the study of epigenetic has shed light on the fact that there are other epigenes that may cause different abnormal effects.
The studies carried out in the movie provided evidence that the changes caused by epigenes in one generation were not limited to that generation alone, and that subsequent generation up to the third and fourth showed clear evidence of the modifications that occurred in the previous generations. It, perhaps, provides a possible explanation for some of the more popular diseases affecting the world today. As a result, even though twins are identical, their living separate lifestyles and living in different environments could turn on or turn off certain genes and increase their predisposition to certain diseases.
Today, the most developed countries face the issue of obesity and diabetes. The studies have not been able to provide any sort of explanation of the trend. Recently, however, a study based on the concept of fetal metabolic programing FMP which is the field of research devoted to understanding and explaining the effect of influences that come into play before and around a pregnancy introduce certain factors that affect the development of specific condition in a child after it is born. This study suggested that the conditions affected by this programing (or in this case reprograming) where mostly metabolic these conditions were for example diabetes mellitus, obesity and some cardiovascular comorbidities.
Another issue was that although this theory had been proven on laboratory animals, human tests were insufficient to make a valid conclusion about the veracity of this theory. It was, probably, due to rather cumbersome nature of carrying out such studies, or even more likely, because there was lack of understanding of this programming mechanism. Gestational diabetes mellitus, GDM, is a form of diabetes common among pregnant women. It is the most significant contributor of hyperglycemia among pregnant women. It has a prevalence of 20% and this number is expected to steadily increase over time because diabetes and obesity are important risk factors for developing this condition. In addition, gestational diabetes mellitus has been shown to be linked to a fourfold increase in the risk of developing weight problems as well as diabetes and other metabolic issues. Considering that glucose metabolism impairments may occur among 3 years old children, it is significant health risk. GDM is especially good model to study mentioned mechanisms and understand them in terms of easier diagnosis and effective treatment. Perhaps, in light of this, a study provided a link between GDM and the development of diabetes. This study showed that hypo-methylation of the mesoderm specific transcript MEST in children who in their perinatal period had exposure to GDM finding this same hypo-methylation of MEST in obese adults confirmed the strong likelihood of a link between GDM and development of diabetes mellitus among children.
Epigenetics not only has deleterious effects, understanding this phenomenon and its mechanism can cause it to be harnessed in the therapy of certain diseases such as cancer for instance. Therapy procedures applying epigenetic principles to re-program genes in cancer patients have shown appreciable promise. In fact, 50% of patients undergoing this kind of therapy have gone into remission.
Further studies on both fetal metabolic programming and therapy employing epigenetic principles should be encouraged as they have shown significant potential.