By Dr. Jeannie Thomason
It takes more than “good genes” to have good health.
Epigenetics in Dogs
The word ‘epigenetics’ is everywhere these days. Epigenetics literally means “above” or “on top of” genetics. It refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence, but instead, they affect how cells “read” genes.
Epigenetic changes alter the physical structure of DNA. One example of an epigenetic change is DNA methylation — the addition of a methyl group, or a “chemical cap,” to part of the DNA molecule, which prevents certain genes from being expressed.
Epigenetic information has been descripted as being the grammar of the DNA alphabet because these DNA events have been shown to be regulation mechanisms associated with gene silencing, expression, chromatin remodeling, or imprinting.
Epigenetics is an attractive study for animal breeders because it may help us find part of the missing causality and missing heritability of complex traits and diseases as well as how we can alter genetic expression.
DNAm patterns are modified along the life of an individual starting in the womb onwards, by environmental forces like diet the mother ate, the diet the animal eats, stress, drugs, or pollution among a myrid of life events. Therefore, some environments and “life styles” are more likely to increase certain methylation patterns, and these patterns would contribute to the phenotypic variation between individuals.
Furthermore, life style/environment is thought to affect the methylation pattern of up to three generations cohabiting under the same specific circumstances at a given time during pregnancy: the productive female, the fetus, and the fetus’ germ cells . Hence, what happens to an animal during its lifetime can have consequences in future generations.
It was originally thought that genes predetermined outcomes. However, now research is telling us that not only diet, exercise and stress, but anything the animal is exposed to in its environment during its lifetime — can affect the gene expression and that of future generations!
It has been found that powerful environmental conditions (such as near death from starvation or a vaccine assault) can somehow leave an imprint on the genetic material in both the eggs and sperm. These genetic imprints can short-circuit evolution and pass along new traits in a single generation.
”Only 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully deterministic, while 95% can be influenced by diet, behavior, and other environmental conditions. Current models of well-being largely ignore genes, yet studies have shown that a program of positive lifestyle changes alter 4,000 to 5,000 different gene activities. You are not simply the sum total of the genes you were born with. You are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story. No prospect in self-care is more exciting.” Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being ~Dr. Rudolph Tanzi (professor of neurology at Harvard University Medical School) and Dr. Deepak Chopra
We can alter genetic expression!
Our dogs, our children and ourselves need not live with the fear of developing cancer, kidney disease, degenerative myelopathy, heart disease or any other dis-eases they (or we) may have genetic markers for! Genetic expression CAN be altered. Keep an eye out for my upcoming articles on epigenetics.