Epigenetics is a New Branch of Science. . .


. . . that needs a little background. In order to understand the modern term epigenetics, you need to know a little about the human genome project. You may have heard of it.  The human genome project began in 1990, when scientists set out to map the human genome.  The thinking at that time was that if we can map the genes that occur in our DNA, we will know the causes of human diseases, because the diseases would appear as some type of gene mutation. Scientists were expecting to find over a half a million genes in the human genome or DNA. They finished the project in 2001 and the results were surprising. Scientists expected to find that our DNA was made up of 90% genes, and 10% of it was a type of “packaging material” or “Junk DNA.”  This “Junk DNA,” it was believed, served no purpose. Instead, what they found was the “Junk DNA” comprised 98% of the genome.  The genes made up only 2% of our DNA. In fact, there are only 20,887 protein coding genes in the human genome (the same number as in a fruit fly!) not a half a million as expected.  Moreover, that “Junk DNA” that was thought to have no purpose has been shown to perform an amazing function:  it exerts control over the expression of those genes. It can turn on good genes and turn off bad genes. The “Junk DNA” or “Packaging Material” is now referred to as the epigenome.  The prefix “epi” means “above” or “over” because it functions to exert control over the genome; that is, the genes in our DNA. So now there is a new branch of science called epigenetics, and a new way to understand how we can influence our genetics.

Epigenetics and Well-Being
By James D. Baird 
~ 2 min read

Note:  This article recently appeared on the blog, "World of Psychology,"  http://psychcentral.com.

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