Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are your genes your destiny?

Most of us recognize that the old nature versus nurture debate is stale. Both are important. The real question is how do they interact to make us who we are?

Are your genes your destiny? (Not if your mom has anything to say about it) published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of McGill News illuminates the work of McGill researchers showing that "life experiences alter DNA by painting it with chemical tags and altering nearby gene expression."

This research has studied rats to understand the impact of maternal care on stress. Rat mothers that licked and groomed their pups raised more even tempered offspring. The grooming switches on a gene that dials down the amount of stress hormones that get released in times of stress, a trait that persists into adulthood. 

The researchers also looked at the brains of suicide victims who had troubled pasts and found a methyl groups associated with the genes that control the production of stress hormone receptors in the brain not found in a control group.

The researchers are now working on a multiyear study, the Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability, and Neurodevelopment Project, with 500 women. Preliminary findings show that children with a genetic disposition to developing depression can avoid an emotional crash if they form a strong bond with their mother in childhood.

While it seems unlikely that there is a single way in which nature and nurture interact the fruits of such research could eventually help those of us looking to go beyond genealogical facts to better understand our ancestors' behaviours.

Read the article from the McGill News at: http://goo.gl/aSCzj

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