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What Is Epigenetics? Essay

1274 words - 5 pages

If we imagine that most of us see our genetics as the smallest and most obscure aspect of our being, then epigenetics are an even more minute part of the genetics that make or break us. I picture epigenetics as being the particles that make up an atom. We envision atoms as the smallest possible particle, the one that makes up all matter, alive or dead. And yet, inside the atoms are even smaller particles—the protons, neutrons, and electrons. Although these particles make it no less or no more of an atom, they change the fundamental functioning of an atom, having control over whether it is stable or not. The PBS video entitled Epigenetics (2007) tells us that epigenetics can be methylation patterns, which they refer to as a second genome, or an epigenome. Randy Jirtle of Duke University Medical Center compares genetics and epigenetics to a computer’s hardware and software. The hardware is compared to genetics, or the genome itself, and the software is compared to epigenetics, or the epigenome. The narrator, Neil Degrasse Tyson, explains that although all of our cells contain the same DNA, epigenomes tell the cells which organ cell to develop into. In addition, he points out that the DNA can change during critical points in our lives (Holt). The definition of an epigenetic trait is “a stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence. (Berger, Kouzarides, Sheikhattar, & Shilatifard, 2009)”
The PBS Epigenetics video (2007) also showcases another study conducted on identical twins, two human beings born of the same fertilized egg who have the same DNA. The study wanted to understand why twins can have identical DNA and still experience differences in their bodies’ growth and development. One example in the short film shows us how the DNA of younger twins shares many overlapping identical factors whereas that of older twins has incurred many changes, thus making the older genes less-alike (Holt). This video highlights what is so interesting about humans and our genetic makeup. It reminds us that regardless of genetics, all of us can choose to change our life’s outcome to whatever the level of controllability may be. The study of epigenetics removes any doubt that healthy lifestyles actually affect a person’s life outcomes, and it reminds us that maybe ditching the processed foods, the cigarettes, and the stress, might actually have benefits that physically manifest themselves. I believe that the video’s major point is to highlight both the effects that external factors have on DNA, but to also point out the transgenerational factor.
The transgenerational factor is the scientifically supported theory that the changes which our DNA incurs will carry on into the next generation. As Randy Jirtle states in the PBS Epigenetics video, “It does, for human health. If there are genes like this in humans, basically, what you eat can affect your future generations. So you're not only what you eat, but...

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