RATING: 7/10…ADDED: 8/29/14
A great book on epigenetics and how thoughts and environment affect genetics.
Almost all of my formal scientific training was in sterile, lifeless classrooms, lecture halls, and laboratories. However, once I was immersed in the Caribbean’s rich ecosystem, I began to appreciate biology as a living, breathing, integrated system rather than a collection of individual species sharing a piece of the earth’s turf.
My preoccupation with a new biology has become more than an intellectual exercise. I believe that cells teach us not only about the mechanisms of life, but also teach us how to live rich, full lives.
In ivory tower science, that kind of thinking would no doubt win me the wacky Dr. Dolittle award for anthropomorphism or more precisely cytopomorphism—thinking like a cell, but for me it is Biology 101. You may consider yourself an individual, but as a cell biologist, I can tell you that you are in truth a cooperative community of approximately fifty trillion single-celled citizens. Almost all of the cells that make up your body are amoeba-like, individual organisms that have evolved a cooperative strategy for their mutual survival. Reduced to basic terms, human beings are simply the consequence of “collective amoebic consciousness.” As a nation reflects the traits of its citizens, our human-ness must reflect the basic nature of our cellular communities.
Most of the cell’s structures are referred to as organelles, which are its “miniature organs” suspended within a jellylike cytoplasm. Organelles are the functional equivalents of the tissues and organs of our own bodies. They include the nucleus, which is the largest organelle, the mitochondria, the Golgi body, and vacuoles.
Each eukaryote (nucleus-containing cell) possesses the functional equivalent of our nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, excretory system, endocrine system, muscle and skeletal systems, circulatory system, integument (skin), reproductive system, and even a primitive immune system, which utilizes a family of antibody-like “ubiquitin” proteins.
Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers; they kill bacteria that are required for our survival as efficiently as they kill harmful bacteria.
Now that we are aware of this inter- and intra-species gene transfer mechanism, the dangers of genetic engineering become apparent. For example, tinkering with the genes of a tomato may not stop at that tomato but could alter the entire biosphere in ways that we cannot foresee.
We need to move beyond Darwinian Theory, which stresses the importance of individuals, to one that stresses the importance of the community.
Evolution becomes a matter of the survival of the fittest groups rather than the survival of the fittest individuals.
Nijhout summarizes the truth: “When a gene product is needed, a signal from its environment, not an emergent property of the gene itself, activates expression of that gene.” In other words, when it comes to genetic control, “It’s the environment, stupid.”
Organic chemists discovered that cells are made up of four types of very large molecules: polysaccharides (complex sugars), lipids (fats), nucleic acids (DNA/RNA), and proteins. Though the cell requires each of the four molecular types, proteins are the most important single component for living organisms.
it is the changing of the proteins’ electromagnetic charges that is responsible for their behavior-generating movement, not DNA.
Geneticists experienced a comparable shock when, contrary to their expectations of over 120,000 genes, they found that the entire human genome consists of approximately 25,000 genes. (Pennisi 2003a and 2003b; Pearson 2003; Goodman 2003) More than eighty percent of the presumed and required DNA does not exist! The missing genes are proving to be more troublesome than the missing eighteen minutes of the Nixon tapes. The one-gene, one-protein concept was a fundamental tenet of genetic determinism. Now that the Human Genome Project has toppled the one-gene for one-protein concept, our current theories of how life works have to be scrapped. No longer is it possible to believe that genetic engineers can, with relative ease, fix all our biological dilemmas. There are simply not enough genes to account for the complexity of human life or of human disease.
the results of parallel genome projects reveal that humans and rodents have roughly the same number of genes!
Enucleated cells die, not because they have lost their brain but because they have lost their reproductive capabilities. Without the ability to reproduce their parts, enucleated cells cannot replace failed protein building blocks, nor replicate themselves. So the nucleus is not the brain of the cell—the nucleus is the cell’s gonad!
Primacy of Environment. The new science reveals that the information that controls biology starts with environmental signals that, in turn, control the binding of regulatory proteins to the DNA. Regulatory proteins direct the activity of genes.
Let’s present an analogy, which hopefully will make the relationship between epigenetic and genetic mechanisms clearer. Are you old enough to remember the days when television programming stopped after midnight? After the normal programming signed off, a “test pattern” would appear on the screen. Most test patterns looked like a dartboard with a bull’s eye in the middle, similar to the one pictured on the following page. Think of the pattern of the test screen as the pattern encoded by a given gene, say the one for brown eyes. The dials and switches of the TV fine-tune the test screen by allowing you to turn it on and off and modulate a number of characteristics, including color, hue, contrast, brightness, and vertical and horizontal holds. By adjusting the dials, you can alter the appearance of the pattern on the screen, while not actually changing the original broadcast pattern. This is precisely the role of regulatory proteins. Studies of protein synthesis reveal that epigenetic “dials” can create 2,000 or more variations of proteins from the same gene blueprint.
While the TV’s controls can change the appearance of the pattern (B and C), they do not change the original pattern of the broadcast (i.e., the gene). Epigenetic control modifies the read-out of a gene without changing the DNA code.
only 5 percent of cancer and cardiovascular patients can attribute their disease to heredity. (Willett 2002)
DNA does not control biology, and the nucleus itself is not the brain of the cell. Just like you and me, cells are shaped by where they live. In other words, it’s the environment, stupid.
The true secret of life does not lie in the famed double helix. The true secret of life lies in understanding the elegantly simple biological mechanisms of the magical membrane—the mechanisms by which your body translates environmental signals into behavior.
Getting back to our sandwich, the membrane’s phospholipids are shaped like lollipops with an extra stick (see illustration above). The round part of the lollipop has polar charges among its atoms; it corresponds to the bread of our sandwich. The molecule’s two stick-like portions are nonpolar; they correspond to the butter part of our sandwich. Because the “butter” portion of the membrane is nonpolar, it does not let positively or negatively charged atoms or molecules pass through it. In effect, this lipid core is an electrical insulator, a terrific trait for a membrane designed to keep the cell from being overwhelmed by every molecule in its environment.
The olives in our sandwich are the truly ingenious part of the membrane. These proteins allow nutrients, waste materials, as well as other forms of “information” to be transported across the membrane. The protein “olives” allow not just any old molecules to get into the cell but only those molecules necessary for the smooth functioning of the cytoplasm. In my sandwich, the olives represent Integral Membrane Proteins (IMPs). These proteins embed themselves into the “butter” layer of the membrane, just as I have embedded olives in the illustration.
Because some regions of a protein’s backbone are made up of polar amino acids and other regions are nonpolar, the protein strand will weave itself in and out of the bread-and-butter sandwich.
Biological behavior can be controlled by invisible forces, including thought, as well as it can be controlled by physical molecules like penicillin, a fact that provides the scientific underpinning for pharmaceutical-free energy medicine.
When a doctor taps your knee with a mallet, a sensory nerve picks up the signal. That sensory nerve immediately passes on that information to a motor nerve that causes the leg to kick. The membrane’s receptors are the equivalent of sensory nerves, and the effector proteins are the equivalent of action-generating motor nerves. Together, the receptor-effector complex acts as a switch, translating environmental signals into cellular behavior.
In contrast to conventional wisdom, genes do not control their own activity. Instead it is the membrane’s effector proteins, operating in response to environmental signals picked up by the membrane’s receptors, which control the “reading” of genes so that worn-out proteins can be replaced or new proteins can be created.
Once I understood how IMPs worked, I had to conclude that the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not by its genetic code.
for the first three billion years of evolution, single cells were the only organisms on this planet. That situation changed only when cells came up with another way to increase awareness. In order to get smarter, cells started banding together with other cells to form multicellular communities through which they could share their awareness,