25 Oct 2011

Nature Vs Nurture

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by Dr. ALYSSA E. BARRY BSc (Hons) PhD

In an age of media access, most people are aware that lifestyle choices greatly influence health outcome. For example smoking causes lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. However, few people understand the mechanisms by which lifestyle or environment can affect ones health.

From the time that the sperm fertilizes the egg and an embryo begins to grow, our DNA (Box 1) is bombarded with chemicals that can mutate (scar) the DNA permanently. So what begins with a fresh genetic blueprint inherited from your parents in each of the cells making up the body, in time, will gather mutations at a rate according to the level of mutating agents from the environment that you are exposed to. Mutagens include substances generated from cigarette smoke, fried foods and stress hormones, which can cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease. This may happen if mutations occur in a gene which normally controls the disease.

Genetic mutations can also be passed on from parent to child. Each person has two copies of the genome, one from your mother and the other from your father. If you inherit a disease-influencing mutation from either parent, you may still have one good copy that will usually prevent the disease. This is where environment comes in, ie: Further mutation of the good copy will result in disease.

Of course this is a highly simplified explanation of the genetic mechanism by which these diseases can occur, but demonstrates why you have control of your disease outcome to a certain extent by controlling your environment and lifestyle choices.

Contact Elite Health today on 0414 789 122


BOX 1: Genes are pieces of DNA that are the instructions to make a living organism, collectively these are known as the genome. We have approximately 30,000 genes in our genome instructing cells to make a human. In humans, all DNA that makes up the genome is split into 23 chromosomes. Each cell has two copies of the 23 chromosomes, a paternal and a maternal copy, and these replicate each time a cell divides so that each dividing cell receives a full genome.



 Dr Alyssa E. Barry is a leading scientist who has worked in top laboratories in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, and now heading up her own lab at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI)


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