Epigenetics: the ever-changing genetic landscape within us

Even identical twins aren't identical, thanks to epigenetics (Photo: Johannes Lundberg via Flickr)
Even identical twins aren’t identical, thanks to epigenetics (Photo: Johannes Lundberg via Flickr)

Can you change your genes? Until a decade or so ago, the popular understanding of genetics was that you inherited your genetic instruction manual from your parents, and barring potential mutations that you might gain throughout your life, your genes are fixed. Environment does, of course, play a role – there’s no denying that choices such as what you eat and how much you time you spend exercising can impact your health.

But epigenetic markers — chemical changes to DNA that don’t alter gene sequences, but none-the-less modify how our genes are activated or silenced — are emerging as a powerful force in human health and disease. What your mother or father ate before conceiving you, where you, as a tiny embryo, decided to implant in your mother’s uterus, and how affectionately you were cared for as an infant can have long-lasting effects on epigenetic markers, and as a consequence, on your health. Head over to ABC Health & Wellbeing to check out a piece I wrote about epigenetics last week.