I’ve recently come across a number of articles on the subject of epigenetics. According to LiveScience, 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.‘
Studies have seemed to show that the effects of things like stress, obesity, and living through famine or war can be passed on from parents to children, and perhaps even to grandchildren and beyond. The effects of these experiences on a parent can alter the way genes are turned on or off in the DNA of one’s offspring. So, in my lay person understanding, it seems that parents might not just pass on their basic genetic material to their children, but also residual effects of certain life experiences.
I’m not going to pretend to understand it all, and I’m certainly not going to try and explain what I’ve read. It’s a bit too complex for me, and I think I’ll need to give these articles a few more readings to better get my head around the information. But this certainly adds a whole new layer to the way we think about genetic inheritance and the effects parents have on their children and future descendent. Our experiences, life style choices, and physical and mental health may be even more important to those who come after us than we previously thought.
If you’d like to read more, here are a few recent articles on epigenetics: