Did you know that yourenvironmental surroundingsand what you eat canaffect your gene expression,and even that of yourdescendants? And what our grandparents ate many years agomay affect our physiology today. The reason is the epigenome.
The epigenome is programmed with chemical markers andswitches that lie along the length of the DNA double helix andhelp turn the expression of certain genes on or off. It canchange over your lifetime in response to the environment.Think of it as software to the DNA’s hardware. As more is discoveredabout epigenetics, you ultimately may be able toreduce disease susceptibility by optimizing the epigenomethrough dietary or behavioral modifications.
An hour-long documentary, The Ghost in Your Genes, is anintroduction and overview. After a short break, Randy Jirtlediscusses the latest epigenetic research and what is on thehorizon.One tantalizing project is the NIH Epigenetics Roadmapinitiative. It is similar to the Human Genome Project, but will bemuch more difficult to complete because every person has amultitude of epigenomes. Yet the implications of havingpersonal epigenome maps are profound—imagine havingcontrol over instructing your genes what to do.
Jirtle is director of the Epigenetics and ImprintingLaboratory at Duke University Medical Center.
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