Epigenetics: Can nurture shape our nature?

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Posted By : ScienceIndia Administrator

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We define nature as the inherent or the basic characteristics of the subject that is being studied. So what defines our nature? Or in simpler words what is the component that decides how our body look, our propensity or immunity towards certain diseases or fundamental personality traits. If we now look around, we will see that most of us somehow resemble our parents and sometimes our relatives tell us that we behave or act in a certain way like someone else in the family do. We are even prone to some diseases running in our families like diabetes. All these things could not be just coincidence, so there must be something that we are acquiring from our parents and that runs in the family from one generation to the another. What is it? It is the DNA, the genetic material that defines our nature. The next question could be if the DNA or the so-called genetic material is sufficient enough to decide our whole personality and overall health. Had the answer to this question been ‘yes’, all the twins would have behaved in the same way. They would have developed the same diseases and even have answered a particular question in a very same way. However, many of us who have ever met twins will know that even sometimes twins have different personalities and depending on their lifestyles they contract different diseases in their lives. This tells us that there is something above the DNA, the genetic material, and it controls the revelation of the genetic information stored in the genetic material. What is this something? This is the component that is defined by ‘our nurture’ and it includes the environment where we live in, the way we have been raised up as a kid and our lifestyle or habits. More scientifically, these components are called ‘Epi-genetic’ (Epi means above) components and they can create chemical modification in the DNA or in the proteins associated with the DNA.

To have even a better understanding of how our nurture (epigenetics) can shape our nature (genetics), let’s have a look around. There are many families where diabetes runs in the generations. Even in these families, individuals who take care of their health and do regular exercise develop the disease much later in life or even sometimes may not get diabetes at all. The same goes with many types of depressive disorders with a genetic basis. It has been observed that psychological counseling and a conducive environment given to the subjects helps in alleviating the symptoms and while a stressful situation aggravates the depression. These are the situation where our ‘nature’ had acquired genetic information that predisposed us for a certain physical or mental state, however, our ‘nurture’ had kept a check on this genetic information and did not get it exposed in our life.  This is how our ‘nurture’ can shape up our ‘nature’.


Article by:

Avinash Srivastava

Senior Research Fellow (PhD)

CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology

Hyderabad – 500007

Email: avinash5@ccmb.res.in

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