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What is Epigenitcs

The term “epigenetics” is often credited to Conrad Waddington (1905-1975) who defined it as that branch of biology which studies interactions between genes and their products. It was spoken of in scientific literature in the middle of the 1800s, and its conceptual origins can be traced to Aristotle (384-322BC).

The modern science of epigenetics began with an experiment in Norrbotten, in Sweden's remote and snowy north. There are found, on average, only six people per square mile. The region is so remote that in the 1800s, people starved in the event of a poor harvest. This occurred in 1800, 1812, 1821, 1836, and 1856, while 1801, 1822, 1828, 1844, and 1863 saw an abundance of food.

In the 1980s, preventive health specialist Dr. Lars Olov Bygren studied 99 people born in Norrbotten in 1905 and used historical records to identify their parents and grandparents. By reference to very detailed agricultural records, Bygren and his two colleagues calculated the quantity of food available in the past.

Bygren had been fascinated by research which showed that conditions in the womb could affect a person's health well into adulthood. A good illustration of the phenomenon was provided by research published in the Lancet medical journal which showed the if a pregnant woman received inadeqeuate nutrition, her child would be much more at risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Bygren wondered if the the experiences of parents could change their offspring.

Charles Darwin stated that evolutionary changes occur in the course of many generations through natural selection. Bygren and others, however, have amassed considerable historical evidence that powerful environmental factors can alter eggs and sperm. In this way, evolution is bypassed and traits can change in the space of one generation.

Bygren found that boys in Norrbotten who benefited from the rare years when food was overabundant, who ate normally one year and gluttonously the next, produced sons and grandsons whose lives were six years shorter. After controlling for socioeconomic factors, the difference was an astounding 32 years. Further papers found that the female line was also affected.

Epigenetics is the study of alterations to gene activity which do not change the genetic code but are still passed down to a minimum of one generation. Gene expression is determined by the cellular material which is situated outside the genome, at its top: the epigenome, with “epi-” meaning “above.” These epigenetic “marks” tell genes to activate or deactivate.

Epigenetics today owes much to the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton. A specialist in stem cells, he wrote the bestselling book, The Biology of Belief and received the Goi Peace Award of 2009. He has appeared on innumerable radio and television shows and spoken at international conferences. Research he carried out from 1987 to 1992 showed that the environment affects cells, which contradicted the accepted belief that life is controlled only by genes.

Dr. Candace Pert showed that the body is a reflection of the subconscious mind. A biochemist, she showed that emotions directly affect the immune system via neuropeptide-specific receptors. In this way, a person's beliefs and perceptions directly affect their health. These amino acid chains were known to be found in great numbers in the brain, but Dr. Pert and her colleagues found them throughout the body, particularly in such major organs as the heart. She described her findings in a ground-breaking book, Molecules of Emotion.

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