Harmful genes can lie dormant throughout our life span – Thanks to ‘switch on and off’ of genes
The first set of humans i.e. father and mother who contribute genetic blueprint to the newborn sets up the stage on which we are exposed to the outer world. The genetic material in every cell carries the blueprint for everything right from our height and complexion to the risks of critical illnesses like cancer. No two humans are genetically identical but we are all 99.9 percent the same.
The harmful genes we carry from our parents make every individual unique. There are estimated around 20,000 human genes. The estimate of the number of human genes has been repeatedly revised down starting from one hundred thousand plus. The genes we are born with don’t change, but their expression makes substantial differences especially during the early years.
Each one of us is born and brought up in our own particular and unique way. We had no role in choosing our genetic makeup. We all have a peculiar set of genes. There are genes that may be influencing many activities or a single gene may be affecting many biochemical processes inside the body. However, the environment in which we are nurtured determines the expression of those genes in many ways through a complex process.
Experiences leave a chemical ‘SIGNATURE’ on the genes which determine whether and how the genes are expressed.
The debate over the role of genetic blueprint vis-a-vis environmental factors that impact us throughout our lives is one of the oldest philosophical issues within psychology.
In the past, there was a widespread view suggesting that our genes determine our lives to a significant extent but later medical science suggested it was nurture i.e., the environment in which we all grow was far more important compared to the genetic blueprint we inherit from our parents.
However, today, most experts recognize that both nature and nurture play a significant role in determining our lives. Not only that, but they also realize that nature and nurture interact in important ways all throughout life.
Often people argue that our genes, the genetic blueprint also influence our destiny. The genes the hereditary material we get from both the parents influence our life. Earlier there was a widely held view that genes have a far greater role in our life.
They determine our destiny to a great extent. However, with the advancement of medical science, these views are now changed. Our genes aren’t our destiny. We have all the power to sculpt our own genetic makeup. The science of epigenetics has changed the way we used to think about the role of genes in our life. Epigenetics is the study of the biological mechanism that switches genes ‘on’ and ‘off’.
This mechanism acts by changing the structure of DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule that contains our genetic code. It’s the interaction between our environment and the genes that determine whether we remain healthy or develop diseases.
We may have got genes of certain chronic diseases from our parents but it’s the environmental factors that switch on those particular harmful genes and leading to the occurrence of many serious illnesses or disorders. Our bodies may harbor harmful genes for serious illnesses like cancer, but they may lie dormant throughout our lifespan. Such harmful genes can be triggered anytime, depending upon specific environmental factors.
If we don’t make conscious and healthy choices, there is a high probability of activating those harmful genes.
Numerous studies have confirmed that the environment in which we are nurtured is primarily responsible for chronic diseases. The environment includes the food and drinks we take, the air we breathe, the thoughts we experience, and the quality of social relationships we have. The environment is the primary driver of our health and longevity and not the genetic blueprint we carry from our parents.
It’s therefore the mix of genetic as well as environmental influence that affects our life. There is a very important study carried out by California Life Company, which is known as Calico, and also the longevity lab.
Calico has been carrying out research on aging with the hope of finding a breakthrough for defeating death one day. This company with the collaboration of other institutions collected and analyzed databases of millions of families in the world. The results were then published in the journal Genetics.
The study has concluded that our DNA, the genetic material, has far less influence on how long we live than previously thought. As per previous estimates for how much genes explain variations in lifespan had ranged from around 15 to 30%. Now the study concludes that this percentage is merely 7. It means humans have more control over how long they live than their genes do.
If someone dies early, it’s is primarily due to one’s lifestyle or the environment in which the person has been nurtured/grown-up
There is now a broad consensus among researchers that it’s ultimately the nurturing that matters the most in our life rather than the genetic blueprint that we inherit from our parents. However, nature and nurture domains are deeply and intimately interwoven with one another. Genes have an influence on the environments we experience. We have certain genes which largely determine how intelligent, empathetic, or antisocial we are.
In fact, inherited DNA differences account for about 50 percent of the differences between us, in our personality, mental health and illness, and cognitive abilities and disabilities. However, later quality of parenting, education, social influence, and life events and experiences start influencing us in significant ways.
Our environment and experiences can directly change the level at which certain genes are expressed, which in turn alters both our brain as well the physical body. Now there is a broad agreement of ‘in the war of nature and nurture, it’s nurture that wins.
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