Beyond the genetic code
A new science studies the way in which environment, diet and interactions can activate or deactivate our genes (and those of other living beings, including plants, and vines). It’s called epigenetics, which literally means above genetics. Because of this discovery, scientists can now prove that the environment can influence the way the genes in the DNA express themselves, and therefore it can also influence the crucial qualities of every individual, every animal and plant. So basically, our destiny is not only written in our DNA, at birth, but it also depends on the environment in which we live.
Surgeon, researcher and adjunct professor Enzo Grossi, analysed this topic in an article first published on Birth, which you can find below.
At birth, the cells of every living being have all the instructions necessary for their development inside the genetic code enclosed in the DNA. Until recently, the fact that the destiny of an individual was written in his genetic code was considered a crucial dogma of biology. This is now disavowed by a science that studies the mechanisms that are beyond, or rather above genetics, and which modify the transmission and expression of hereditary characters. This science borrowed a word introduced by Aristoteles, “epigenetics”, to describe the phenomena that lead from the genotype, that is to say from the genetic heritage, to the phenotype, that is to say to the concrete individual. In other words, what we eat, the environment in which we live, the people with whom interact, the way we age, all these factors can create chemical changes around the genes which will turn them on or off over time.
To use a metaphor that will make this subject more easy to understand, we can compare human, animal and vegetal life to a film: cells are the actors; the sequence of DNA is the script. We can imagine genes as blocks of key instructions: the main scenes. So if genetics act as the script, epigenetics is the director, who is decisive for the success of the film, given that by eliminating or emphasizing a scene in the same script, he will influence the final result. The director, in other words, is the environment.
Epigenetics makes us unique. The number of scientific studies has increased, with over ten thousand articles per year and though they are mostly focused on human beings, they also study the vegetal world. The biological mechanisms that activate or deactivate the vine’s genes are also being studied. What we’ve understood is that a hostile environment such as an arid soil, paradoxically, by activating the protective genes, can enhance some special features that will give life to a wine with special aromas. This mechanism is also used in the production of sweet wine: during withering, because of the lack of sap, thousands of genes are activated inside the grapes that would otherwise never express themselves. Epigenetics therefore represents a real cultural revolution that is shedding light on mysteries that once seemed inexplicable.