Page 42


Unraveling and Understanding our DNA

40 Marine Log // February 2018

actually changing the hard coding of DNA. It is like a light switch that turns our genes on and off. Observations in epigenomics started in early 2000, and have grown into the newest frontier of medical science. Take the cancer questions from earlier for example; is cancer a mutation on the hard-coded DNA or a change to the epigenome? Answer: Cancer can be either. We know that changes in the epigenome can activate growth-promoting genes in stomach cancer,

DNA is still an unfolding story...There is a myriad of influences that play a role in how our genes express themselves colon cancer and the most common type of kidney cancer. In some other cancers, changes in the epigenome silence genes that normally serve to keep cell growth in check. Environment also impacts the epigenome. This is dramatically seen in the post World War II environment in the Netherlands, where children exposed to a mother’s famine during early pregnancy had increased rates of coronary heart disease and obesity. More recent studies have shown that maternal exposure to pollution increases a child’s risk for asthma. Further research

Emily Reiblein

Crowley Maritime Corporation, Labor Relations-Union Wellness Programs/ Operations Integrity



ecently a rash of questions about genetic testing have come up. People want to know, if mom’s breast cancer or dad’s colon cancer will become the fight of their life too? Does genetics identify the future state of our health? The science of human genetics exploded into v iew in the mid-1900s w ith the discovery of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)— a chemical compound found inside every human cell. It contains the genetic instructions for building, running and maintaining our body. An understanding of DNA grew by leaps and bounds in 1990 with the Human Genome Project. The Project’s goal was to map the complete genetic code of human beings; all attributes and combinations attached to our 23 chromosomes (long strands of DNA that carry our genetic data). The Project ultimately sequenced over 3 billion letters or bits of human genetics. The promise of these bits was that they would bring about a medical revolution and help us design our fate. The Project isolated over 1,800 disease markers and over 2,000 genetic tests have been developed to read them. Fifteen years after the project’s completion, the medical revolution based on DNA is still an unfolding story. However, disease turns out to be far more complex than our 23 chromosomes could speak to at the time. There is a myriad of influences that play a role in how our genes express themselves. One of these knots to be unraveled is the epigenome. The chemical bath that surrounds our DNA is a newer known influencer. These chemicals appear to prompt genes to modify their action, without

at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) found that fathers who consumed excessive amounts of certain supplements could epigenetically harm their offspring. The study showed that they altered their children’s memory and learning ability. What we have come in contact with in our lives changes the expression of our diseases and can dramatically alter the outcome. As for the question of DNA testing, there are now very easy options largely thanks to the work of the Human Genome Project. One way is to visit your doctor who can prescribe testing. Health insurance may cover testing and the cost of interpretation by a genetic councilor. There are now also direct to consumer tests that will identify your whole individual genetic code. This might appear to be an easier answer, but consumers need to be aware that when choosing this option, not all companies process their testing through certified labs. Additionally, tests don’t always meet FDA criteria for clinical validity. If you are looking for disease data from this test, clinical standards may be important. Information on whether you have the gene for breast cancer or colon cancer is not immediately clear from a home test. Tests need to be taken to a genetic councilor or you need to know what you are looking for in the raw data. Keep in mind, it’s a complex, multi-layer picture to determine risk and not all the influencers are presently know. We discover more daily. Mom and dad’s DNA is not a straight line toward understanding our future disease state. The great strides in DNA testing and the potential it shows for disease prevention, finding where we came from and understanding aspects of how to optimize our health, are amazing and complex. Knot after knot is being discovered, and needs to be unraveled before we have straight rope. Tune in to the next article for the science of manipulating the epigenome. Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. All medical advice should be sought from a medical professional.

Marine Log February 2018  
Marine Log February 2018