In recent years the field of epigenetics has grown exponentially. But what is epigenetics? The term is derived from the Greek “epigenesis” originally describing the influence of genetic processes on all living organisms’ development. It refers to the inheritable (from parents and grandparents etc…) changes in the potential gene expression (blue vs brown eyes, tall or short stature, blonde vs brown hair, etc…) that does not involve changes in your foundation DNA sequence. This in turn affects how your cells read the genes. Epigenetic changes occur naturally but we now know they are more often influenced by external factors such as age, dietary influences (known as microRNA) environmental exposure, lifestyle behavior, and disease conditions. Epigenetic modifications may manifest as the way in which cells differentiate themselves to end up as bone, kidney, or nerve cells. Or, these epigenetic changes can have more damaging effects resulting in diseases like arthritis, depression or even cancer. Researchers have identified at least three biochemical/functional activities; DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNA (ncRNA). They are involved in “turning on” a gene or “off” and are considered to initiate and sustain epigenetic change. Ongoing research is discovering the role epigenetics play in human disorders and chronic degenerative diseases.
The Role of Methylation: Hope for a variety of conditions
In short, methylation is the process in a biochemical pathway when a methyl group is attached to a substrate. A methyl group is a chemical derived from the gas methane and is abundant in the atmosphere.
A substrate is a substance (molecule) which is acted upon altering its structure and function into something different. This is done through the action of enzymes – protein chemicals that initiate, speed-up, slow down or stop biochemical actions and reactions.
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