A few months ago, the Holy Spirit breathed a question into my mind, “Is it possible for parents to change their children’s DNA after they are born?”
It seemed like an odd, random question, unrelated to anything going on at the time, but I have learned that the more bizarre the question, the more profound His revelation.
My immediate reaction, a product of what I’d been taught I suppose, was that of course DNA couldn’t be changed. DNA is the very essence of our being, the blueprint and template of our genetic heritage. It is a physical reality set in motion at the moment of conception, sealed deep within every structural unit of our anatomy.
My second thought was, ‘Wait, why are You asking me this?’ The very fact that the question was posed probably meant that my old pattern of thinking was smaller than truth (as is usually the case of most of our thinking patterns!).
Since I didn’t really know where to start, I did what any good researcher does when they need to know something – I googled it! Suddenly, a new paradigm opened and into the vacuum poured an avalanche of amazing discoveries.
I learned about the fascinating field of epigenetics where studies are done on how the expression of heritable traits is modified by environmental influences or other mechanisms, without a change in the DNA sequence. These modifications can determine when, or even if, a given gene is expressed in a cell.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that we can indeed change our DNA through diet and exercise. As Adventists, we have believed for a long time that a good diet and exercise improves health.
“Diet and epigenetics appear to be closely linked. The most well known example is that of the Agouti mice: they are yellow, fat and are prone to diabetes and cancer. If Agouti females are fed with a cocktail of vitamin B12, folic acid and cholin, directly prior to and during pregnancy, they give birth to mainly brown, slim and healthy offspring. They in turn mainly have offspring similar to themselves.”
Beyond, diet and exercise, however, I was surprised to learn that memories and emotions can also affect DNA.
“One study indicates that traumatic experiences can produce fearful memories which are passed to future generations via epigenetics. A study carried out on mice in 2013 found that mice could produce offspring which had an aversion to certain items which had been the source of negative experiences for their ancestors. Reports stated that: For the study, author Brian Dias and co-author Kerry Ressler trained mice, using foot shocks, to fear an odor that resembles cherry blossoms. Later, they tested the extent to which the animals’ offspring startled when exposed to the same smell. The younger generation had not even been conceived when their fathers underwent the training, and had never smelt the odor before the experiment.
“The offspring of trained mice were ‘able to detect and respond to far less amounts of odor… suggesting they are more sensitive’ to it, Ressler told AFP of the findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. They did not react the same way to other odors, and compared to the offspring of non-trained mice, their reaction to the cherry blossom whiff was about 200 percent stronger, he said.
“The scientists then looked at a gene, M71, that governs the functioning of an odor receptor in the nose that responds specifically to the cherry blossom smell. The gene, inherited through the sperm of trained mice, had undergone no change to its DNA encoding, the team found. But the gene did carry epigenetic marks that could alter its behavior and cause it to be “expressed more” in descendants, said Dias. This in turn caused a physical change in the brains of the trained mice, their sons and grandsons, who all had a larger glomerulus—a section in the olfactory (smell) unit of the brain.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
I continued to be amazed as I was led to a number of books that touched on this fascinating field. The ‘answer’, at least in part, to the random question first posed to me, blew me away.
“What is both complex and amazing about the mind is how it emerges under the influence of what neuroscientists call epigenetics. Simply put, this means that gene expression is influenced – turned on and off, accelerated and slowed – by experience. For example, some people may have a genetic predisposition for being more anxious than other people. But if their parents are deeply attuned to their emotional temperaments, the genes that turn on their children’s anxiety response will tend to be quieted, and they’re more likely to develop a sanguine approach to life. On the other hand, if their parents behave anxiously, they may activate the genes that encourage anxiety to emerge, even in the most benign circumstances.” (Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson, MD)
The thought that parents (and perhaps friends and family) can change our children’s (or friend’s and family’s) DNA is stunning. As quantum physics is showing, we are connected in evermore astounding ways as we influence each other in almost unbelievable measure. We have the staggering privilege to partner with the Divine Creator in molding present and future generations. The familial effects “to the third and fourth generations” are being graciously ‘proven’ true (for those of us left-brainers that like a few facts mixed with our daily dose of Scripture).
My takeaway was – when God speaks, believe…and join Him on an amazing journey of discovery.
Here’s to inquiring minds!
Ann Halim, editor
Republished with permission from College View Church’s e-Weekend newsletter, Aug 28, 2014 edition