One of the many blessings of having intelligent, well-read friends is that you often find yourself engaged in fascinating conversations about all manner of things. Topics wander deliciously from one subject to the next and before you know it, someone stops and says, “Wait. What is that? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word before.” It was such a confabulation that lead to this week’s word: epigenetic.
Epigenetic: of, relating to, or produced by the chain of developmental processes in epigenesis that lead from genotype to phenotype after the initial action of the genes
I’m still working all of this out, but researching an answer to the age-old question of nature versus nurture inevitably leads you to the study of epigenetics, and epigeneticists say the answer to the question is that nature and nurture have a huge impact on why each of us is the way we are. As a Christian, I am firmly persuaded that nature plays one part, nurture another, and our own free will as moved by consciences plays yet another. We are a spirit, possess a soul and live in a body.
However, it’s no accident that I am generally comfortable in 80-degree heat while my friend of Scottish descent finds it particularly stifling. African genes tend to prefer warmer climes. Or that regardless of how much I work out, my arms are weak and wobbly compared to those of a 15-year-old boy, even if he never worked out. Men and women are different. The website What is Epigenetics describes it this way:
Here’s an analogy that might further help you to understand what epigenetics is, as presented in Nessa Carey’s Epigenetics Revolution. Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script — instructions for all the participants of the movie to perform their roles. Subsequently, the DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting. Follow the analogy so far? Great. The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse. After all, Steven Spielberg’s finished product would be drastically different than Woody Allen’s for the same movie script, wouldn’t it?
Now you know a little about epigenetics.