We’ve all been exposed to genetics in basic High School biology. Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is the sacred LEGO block of
Nature. The DNA strain is a double helix made up of genes (groups of nuclei). Each gene carries with it a trait that is either expressed in an organism or is recessive. That’s it, that’s the most basic of High School Biology. Unfortunately that is what many people think – you have the gene because your parents had the gene and it is their fault for giving it to you and there is nothing you can do about it.
The study of genetics began with the study of heredity. The idea that the offspring exhibit traits similar to that of their parents has been known as a fact for a long time and for a long time genetics was that simple. Charles Darwin was probably one of the most noted forefather o
f the field of study. It was his observation that led him to his legendary idea of Evolution By Means of Natural Selection. Charles Darwin did not have the knowledge or the technology to understand why – it wasn’t until 1865 – some 10 years later that Gregor Mendal started conducting experiments on plants. It wasn’t until 1953 that the double helix model was created by Francis Crick & James Watson. At that time the genetic code was cracked. At the same time it was discovered that DNA duplicates – thus allowing cell growth. As a review because it should be well known by the reader – the genetic code is Adenine, Thymine (AT) & Cytosine & Guanine ( CG) as base pairs, always in that pair. The arrangement of the base pairs creates a trait that is either recessive or dominant.
That is how basic biology has been taught. HOWEVER
it is much more complicated….
GENES don’t do just one thing. In fact – there are specific types – each active in certain cells of the body. You have genes specific for neurons, skin cells, red and white blood cells, etc etc. You also have regulatory genes – these genes control what genes get expressed and when. Regulatory genes are the on-off switches. You also have Master /PAX-6 genes which are responsible in the development of the embryo of an organism.
Albert Bandura was an American Psychologist who is most noted for his study with aggression
in children. In his 1961 study, Bandura had children in his laboratory playing in a small room with double mirrored walls for observation. The key focus of the room was the bobo doll (a large inflatable punching bag in the shape of a clown, a classic children’s toy). The children paid no mind to the large toy, not until a research assistant entered the room and began to punch and kick the doll. After leaving the room the children began to mimic what they saw the adult do – punching, kicking and beating the crap out of the toy. Not surprisingly when the study was made public – the public lost their mind. It was confirmed in the eyes of the public that behavior and other traits are a result of the environment – a suspicion created and fueled by the Behaviorists at the time – Behaviorists like Pavolv & John B. Watson who militantly defended the notion that the environment alone makes us what we are rather than inheritance. The 1960’s was a time of the fear of the “refridgerator moms” – parent’s who didn’t provide enough emotional support to their children would end up having delinquent children no matter what.
Luckily – the study of epigenetics has taken the world of biological sciences by storm – specially the areas of neuropsychology, cancer research, HIV and Stem Cell studies. Epgenetics is the study of the relationship and interaction between genes and the environment. As it turns out – the outside environment has some degree of influence on how a trait is expressed (or if it gets expressed at all).
While Epigenetics has take
n much of the blame off of the parents – the mother is still not off the hook just yet – while genes are turning on and off from the environment as we go about our lifespan – prenatal stress from the mother can also play a hand. Prenatal stress can also play a hand in a child’s risk for Neurogenic Syndrome Disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the child’s sexual orientation or whether they will have behaviors stereotypical of male or female.
Epigenetics & You
Much like everything else – we have some control of our own destinies. We may not be able to help ourselves in determining when we will be born, who our parents will be or what area of the world we are born into but we are not the victims of birth. Just because your parents or grandparents had a trait doesn’t necessarily mean
you will obviously have the trait too (dominant exhibition of the trait). It simply means you are a carrier and at risk for that gene to be expressed. If cancer runs in the family – you might want to put on sunscreen, avoid alcohol and tobacco as much as you can. If diabetes or obesity runs in the family – you can help your situation by watching what you eat, exercising at least 3 days a week for 20-30 minutes. There are many steps one can take to help yourself. Your genes are the gun – how you set your environment up is your trigger..
Association of Psychological Science (2012) Bandura & Bobo. www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/obsonline/bandura-and-bobo.html#.WK-mKG_yt0w
Grezinko, N., Schmitz, R. (2012) Maternal Stress During Pregnancy: ADHD Symptomatology in Children & Genotype. J Can Acade Child & Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3269259/
DNA From The Beginning Master genes control body plans www.dnaftb.org/37/
Bio Explorer History of Genetics www.bioexplorer.net/history_of_biology/genetics/
Ornish, D. You Are Not Your Genes. TED Talk