How Your Lifestyle Can Effect Your Offspring
Environment + Genes = Us. Over the 20th century as our knowledge of biology increased, this simple equation seemed to be the general overriding theory as to what ultimately controls the development of our bodies, brains, and lifespan. This complex, and often mysterious, interaction between our DNA blueprint and environmental exposure determined what illnesses we developed, how long we lived, and even our psychological well being.
More recently, the science of epigenetics has begun to explain exactly how our gene activity can be modulated by external environmental factors. A variety of epigenetic mechanisms have been uncovered, revealing how factors like stress or diet can alter the expression of certain genes. Understanding how these epigenetic triggers function promises to fundamentally expand our ability to tinker with biological systems. Instead of directly altering a DNA sequence to make a small change, we can now work to simply silence, or reduce, the expression of a single gene causing an unwanted effect.
But a great debate has been raging for some time questioning just how heritable these epigenetic cues are. When a mother and father’s DNA join to create a new life, is this just a mix of their DNA blueprints, or are epigenetic cues also transferred from generation to generation?
In 2015, a study was published claiming that the children of Holocaust survivors were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders. The implication was that trauma could be transmitted across generations via epigenetic alterations.
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