What is the role of DNA in a cell? What are its implications? How do we interpret the role of DNA via human technological advances? Can we understand its role through modern medicine and practice? A number of questions follow as we think of the dynamic and interactive nature of life and their forms. Therefore, in this blog, we have tried to answer these intriguing questions. It also delves deep into the anatomy of our genome (DNA) along with their involvement in our life processes.
DNA is a huge polymer is packed inside the nucleus of cells with the aid of specialized proteins that helps in compacting and mediating the role of DNA in the cell with efficiency and vitality. The following link helps you understand in detail about specialized proteins and their role in a cell (1.30). We should first understand that the production of protein or gene expression is not performed entirely by our genome. Around 1.5% codes for proteins and about 25% codes for regulatory elements. The rest is consequential in a functional aspect that is under severe scrutiny.
The term epigenetics is a phenomenon which involves, a change in gene expression i.e., production of proteins from genes without any alterations in the underlying DNA sequence itself. The production of protein occurs from the protein coding regions of DNA. Cutting to the chase, epigenetics is the modification of proteins which help in the formation of compact DNA.
The main protein family that aids to condense DNA into a compact structure are called histones. The structure is such that, it fits into a nucleus of 6 μm in diameter while it measures around 2 m in length when stretched out. Let’s try and understand epigenetics in a simpler way. Imagine our DNA as a fresh note of currency, you want to store it but it shouldn’t get crushed or be too conspicuous to attract attention. In such a case, epigenetics is your wallet where your currency can be stored with maximum accessibility and minimum damage.
The role of epigenetics in a multicellular organism like ourselves is extensive. We know that the DNA present in the trillions of cells of our body is similar for each individual with a few exceptions. This brings us to question, on how does a liver cell be different from our neurons while consisting of the same genetic information?
This is because, genes are selectively expressed in cells depending on the accessibility to proteins that can read and weave the specific protein sequence, accordingly. The highly regulated epigenetic factors enable the accessibility for the DNA sequence. The astonishing fact about this regulation is the careful coordination and precision that aids in yielding 200 different types of cells from a single cell. The single cell responsible for the yield is called zygote.
We should remember that the scope of epigenetics extends from differentiation of cell types to adaptability and ingenuity of life itself. Here, is an attachment of a seemingly lucid illustration published in Scientific American, a leading purveyor of scientific news. This link will help you understand how epigenetics can regulate gene expression. (Check it out)
The implication of epigenetics in human health and life is a wide scientific exploration. There is evidence of how epigenetics is implied in adaptation and how these patterns change according to the environment of cells. For instance, liver cells of an alcoholic are different from those of a non-alcoholic. Similarly, the epigenetic pattern varies in the lungs of a smoker and a non-smoker. The variations of epigenetic patterns have been correlated with the psychological state such as stress and affection. Similarly, diet is correlated with the epigenetic pattern of cells in our digestive system. Epigenetic changes are two-faced, i.e., desirable and dreadful in physiological consequences.
In an apparently fast-paced world where we continue to compartmentalize our own life into various domains where we are dependent on multitudes of professionals to cater to our daily needs such as food, entertainment, medicine, cosmetics, exercise and well-being, the concept of self-involvement in the self is lost. When each and every aspect of our life has an effect on our physical and mental well being, it is only rational to take more control of the things that we can control.
We need to get more involved in our lives to be more receptive to what our body needs and what it does not. We need to be more participative (my new favorite word) in our own lives. We need to create an environment for ourselves which is more conducive to our personality. We should learn to embrace the fact that we are the true stewards of our lives and need to take the helm to steer our lives to make active lifestyle choices based on our intuition and the knowledge that we have acquired through our interactions and formal education that we hold so dear. We need to be more proactive when it comes to our lives so as to live a wholesome and a sustainable life.
– BackYourScience Editorial.