Saturday, October 09, 2010

Harvard Public Health Review Article on Epigenetics

The article expressed the passionate interest of scientists to find out how genes interact with each other and the environment, thereby affecting genes and proteins expressed. For instance, redheads, even ones with olive skin, tend to have a higher-than-average predisposition to skin cancer. This may be in part due to how the gene or hair interacts with the environment, and the consequences of this interaction. Epigenetics refers to how the environment affects genes and causes traits that may be inherited. According to the article, this may be one perspective from which to look at the question of why about 80 to 90 percent of heavy smokers do not get lung cancer.
Usually epigenetics has referred to radiation or pollution changes. They are expanding it to mean other factors that cause changes: chemicals, diet, exercise, workplace hazards and more. For instance, manganese, found in welding fumes, some wells, fungicides and pesticides, is a neurotoxin that can lead to manganism, a Parkisonian-type disorder. Environmental factors often increase genetic risks. For example, a March 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the importance of the effect of environmental factors for those with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced, diet, and limit alcohol intake.
One researcher, James Mitchell, is studying in fasting in animals to see if this will protect them (and humans) before surgery or chemotherapy. He will study if deficiencies in amino acid tryptophan will confer resistance to malaria. Epidemiologists David Christiani found that a common gene variant made Shangai textile workers more vulnerable to lung disease.
More research will shape public health policy. A danger is that genetically-screened people are charge higher for or denied health insurance.

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