Source: Dyani Lewis via ABC Health & Wellbeing

When it comes to your health, the genes you inherit from your parents and grandparents play a significant role. But it’s not just about their genes; you can also be affected by the environmental factors they encountered.

Have you ever wondered why identical twins aren’t actually identical? They have different personalities, of course, but they also go on to develop different diseases and often die of unrelated conditions – one may die from heart disease, while the other succumbs to cancer.

“People have focused over the years on similarities between twins,” says epigenetics researcher Associate Professor Jeff Craig, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. “But there are a lot of differences in behaviour and diseases, so something else must be going on.”

twins

This seems odd, if you consider that each twin in an identical pair contains exactly the same set of genes inherited from their parents – they are clones. Many of the differences between the two are due to what scientist call ‘epigenetics’ – genetic changes that affect the way in which your genes can be turned on or off in different tissues and at different times throughout your life.

Epigenetic changes can be the result of your diet, lifestyle and environmental toxins you may be exposed to. But they can also be programmed before birth due to the diet and experiences of your mother, father or even grandparents.

How do epigenetic changes alter genes?

Many of us are familiar with gene mutations – changes to the sequence of chemical letters in DNA that make up a gene. Mutations occur throughout our lives due to errors made when a cell copies its DNA during cell division, or due to chemicals and radiation. Mutations present in sperm and egg cells can cause genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis if inherited from our parents. Environmental factors such as UV light can also cause mutations in our cells that can go on to cause cancer.

In epigenetic changes, the sequence of chemical letters that make up our genes don’t change. Instead, modifications to the DNA or to the proteins that help to pack the long strands of DNA into our cells are added or removed. These modifications can determine whether or not a gene is active in a particular cell…. Read More>>

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