Epigenetics: Changing how our cells behave

Epigenetics is the term used to describe structural modifications to genes, without a change to underlying DNA (Pozharny, Lambertini, Clunie, Ferrara & Lee, 2010). There is evidence to suggest that the structural modifications to genes is a result of changes in an organisms environment (Pozharny, Lambertini, Clunie, Ferrara & Lee, 2010). For example,  if we were to observe two groups of mice, one group who received attention from their parents and one that did not, we would find that the phenotypes (characteristics developed and passed on to the next generation, influenced by our interaction with our environment and the competition within it) would be markedly different. Based on the foregoing scenario, it is argued that the environment in which we live plays a large role in making fixed and permanent changes to most differentiated cells. The basis of cell differentiation lies in the ability of tissues to express different genes from the same basic set of genetic information stored in DNA. In a study on the foetal origin of disease, it was found that early embryonic growth, fetal growth, pre-term, full term, birth weight and future cardiovascular and metabolic risk for disease is significantly influenced by the epigentic factors of maternal nutrition, body composition, metabolism, endocrine status, environmental exposure (allergens and toxins), stress, infection and drug use (Cota & Allen, 2010).

Cota, B.M. & Allen, P.J. 2010. The developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis. Pediatric Nursing, 36, 3, 157-167.

Yevgeniya, P., Lambertini, L., Clunie, G., Ferrara, L & Lee, M.J. 2010. Epigenetics in women's health care. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 77, 225-235.

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