While the media steals the spotlight from groundbreaking inventions and incredible technologies, scientists continue to plow through new challenges with a vengeance. What’s new? Hmm. What’s not new? Groundbreaking research in epigenetics is opening the door to understanding latent or “junk” code in our DNA. The research actually came out of the University of Maryland last year but you probably didn’t hear about it. Why not? Oh, probably Donald Trump made some comment about Miss America or something – which, of course, is WAY more important than groundbreaking science. So what did they find?
Let’s take a step backwards because many people I meet don’t know what epigenetics is – even my teens don’t know. What are they teaching in highschool anyway? Oh yeah – how to be popular. Mika taught us that but I forgot. Anway, epigenetics is a term used to describe inheritance via routes outside of our DNA. It’s relatively new (the term was only coined 70+ years ago …) so that might explain why many people haven’t learned about it (*sarcasm) if we don’t want to blame our schools or federal education policies. That said, studies were not intense until renewed interest in epigenetics surged in the 1990s so we’ve only had a couple decades to get updated on these things … Currently, there are only a few methods of epigenetic influences that we know about but what we do know is quite interesting. It turns out that RNA has a role in influencing gene expression … but that may only be true in certain circumstances. In other words, our environment influences gene expression to some degree. Much like the three spine stickleback, our environment can determine whether or not certain genes find expression. While most of what we know about epigenetics tends to be less glamorous than the three spine stickleback (most research is about diseases), it doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that we will soon be learning that eye color or skin softness is not just a matter of whether or not we inherited a couple of aleles – it may be a matter of our environment as well. And while that may sound somewhat benign, the three spine stickleback offers us much more exciting possibilities.
As an author, imagining what epigenetics may ultimately entail could be much more interesting than what we ultimately discover in real life. However, that is the point isn’t it? I wrote a short story about what these possiblities might entail – click on the image above to read it. If you like it, let me know … this is only the first few chapters of a book I’ve outlined. If hints of the book aren’t strong enough in the short story, just imagin what could happen with crazy evolutionary changes mixed with AI chips! The short story is on Wattpad so it’s free for now.