Research has indicated that the genes in our DNA are not all active at the same time and can in fact be ‘silenced’ or ‘de-silenced’, i.e., switched on or off.  This process is called gene regulation and leads to differences in gene expression.  In other words, processes within cells regulate which genes are expressed or active.  To switch a gene off, and to therefore prevent it making the protein it was designed to produce, cells can use chemicals in the body called methyl groups and initiate a process called methylation to block a gene’s effects.  However, a gene can be switched back on by the reverse process of demethylation.  The study of how genes are switched on and off is called epigenetics.  It is important to note that the genes are not permanently altered but their ability to influence our biology is manipulated: the machinery of the genes will again work normally once switched back on.

This article, BeyondDNA: Epigenetics, explores the links between nature and nurture.


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