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Tips for Students: Epigenetics: You Are What You Eat, and Think, and Do with Scott Beaver

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Authored by: Scott Beaver, Ph.D.


These days, high school and college level biology tend to have a focus on so called molecular biology. That is, biology has a big emphasis on understanding the DNA molecule and how it contributes to life on Earth.

But what do we really know about DNA? The science of genetics, which is the study of DNA, has been around for over a hundred years. Early scientists like Gregor Mendel wouldn’t have known much about molecules, whereas today we have detailed chemical knowledge of DNA to the point of “decoding” its contents. Unfortunately, however, the ability to simply decode DNA doesn’t really explain how it works.

The new science of epigenetics describes how a sort of chemical software operates the DNA. The prefix –epi means above, in the sense that this chemical software, involving a chemistry known as methylation, sits above the DNA much like a computer’s operating system software sits above the computer’s hardware.

We have the ability to “reprogram” our DNA through our food choices, thoughts, and actions. We’ll examine how the science of epigenetics supports the paradigm of making a 1-year, 5-year and 10-year plan for your life to achieve success in whatever you choose to do with it.

Highlights

  • After a hundred years of scientific research, it turns out that the DNA code doesn’t have as much information as once though.
  • It turns out that the physics of DNA, how it’s constantly changing its shape, matter a lot.
  • The effect of DNA’s changing shape controls what genes are turned on or off at a given moment.
  • This effect, much like a molecular circuitry, is like a software that controls what the DNA actually does. This is referred to as epigenetics.
  • Our epigenetic software is constantly programmed and re-programmed according to the situations and environments in which we find ourselves.
  • Internal factors such as the food we eat, our thoughts, and how we feel stimulate our epigenetic software just as much as external factors from objective physical reality.
  • Moreover, each human has a unique perception that causes the same internal and external factors to affect different people differently.
  • A variety of evidence supports the idea that by spending 10,000 (ten thousand) hours doing or working on something, you’ll completely rewire your epigenetic software to be become really, really talented at that particular skill.
  • We can use epigenetics to become really, really talented at whatever we choose to spend our time doing. This includes external practices such as mastering chemistry laboratory techniques, as well as internal practices such as maintaining a positive attitude, thoughts, or emotions.
  • As a basis of comparison, there 8,760 hours in a non-leap year. So in as little as a few years, by spending some hours per day doing something, you can accumulate 10,000 hours of experience to become really, really talented at this skill.
  • Commonly referred to as life planning or goal setting, modern epigenetics validates the common sense and well tested approach of making a 1-year, 5-year and 10-year plan for your life in order to improve the quality of your life.

Things students can do to explore this topic further

To apply the science of epigenetics to your life, start by gathering some “data” on your own, personal life experience. Answer the following short response questions. Bullet points are fine.

  1. Make a BRIEF 1-year, 5-year and 10-year plan for your life. Where would you like to be and what would you like to be doing in life, both figuratively and literally, 1 year into the future, 5 years into the future, and 10 years into the future?
  2. Pick a favorite activity (example: learning) included in your above plans that you currently do, or just pick any activity that you currently do a lot. Estimate how many hours per week you spend on this activity. Mulitply by an estimate of how many weeks per year you spend doing this activity, to get an estimate of how many hours per year you spend on this activity. Estimate how long (how many years) it would take to accumulate 10,000 hours of experience with this activity.
  3. List some things you would like to accomplish at some point in your life, but which aren’t included in your above plans.
  4. Pick a date about a year in the future, and repeat the above process. Keep in mind your plans are going to change, and that’s fine and normal. The idea is to be proactive and have a flexible plan to apply epigenetics to your life to bring positive results.

Resources

There is a bit of more information with some references to investigate epigenetics further from the US Centers for Disease Control, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins at the below 3 links, respectively:

https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/what-is-epigenetics-and-how-does-it-relate-to-child-development/

https://epigeneticscenter.org/

If you’d like to learn more about how DNA is part of our biology, from a physics perspective, without getting lost in the endless chemistry on the topic, the interested learner might take Dr. Scott’s online Cell Biology course described here: https://learnwithdrscott.com/9th-grade-biology-topics-syllabus/

Speaker Bio:
Scott Beaver, Ph.D. is a former gifted kid who excelled at math and science at an early age. He’s the founder of learnwithdrscott.com, an online education website and learning community. He instructs fun technical material related to those seemingly “hard” sciences, delivered in in a clear voice and plain English, which tell the story of how science impacts and changes the world around us. He connects with and motivates young learners to apply science to life as a means of personal growth. “Dr Scott” has a doctorate degree in chemical engineering from the University of California, and he has a career that has involved environmental chemistry, human health, computer modeling, and online education.

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