Imagine a giant manufacturing plant with a central office and large numbers of energy centers used to power the rest of the plant, so large and sophisticated that they are host to thousands of simultaneous chemical and electrical processes.
Then imagine that there are 40 trillion of these extraordinary manufacturing plants sitting cheek by jowl, trading resources back and forth, and you begin to comprehend the dynamic life of every one of the 100 trillion cells in your body.
Each cell is a body unto itself, capable, in the space of 10 micrometers, of carrying out all the varied activities – respiration, consumption, replication, excretion — that your body engages in as a totality.
Nevertheless, no matter how adept at multi-tasking, acutely observant of change and rapidly adaptable, not one single cell in your body is capable of any function without some from a signal outside itself. In fact, as scientists are now beginning to understand, the switch that turns on or off genes lies outside your body.
The cytoplasm or blob of jelly that makes up every cell in your body is encased in a semi-permeable cell membrane, a triple layer of fat-like molecules containing a variety of protein molecules that act as little revolving doors for other molecules to enter or exit the cell.
Whether or not a molecule gets through the cell membrane depends entirely on these gatekeeper proteins, which are called “receptors,” because they function like antennae, picking external signals from other molecules and in turn signaling to other “effector” proteins to modify the cell’s behavior.
The membrane contains hundreds of thousands of these protein receptor switches, which possess the ability to regulate a cell’s function by switching a certain gene on or off.
But what prompts the turn of the switch is an environmental signal— from the air, water, and food we consume, the toxins we’re exposed to, or even the people we surround ourselves with.
This in turn affects the chemical coating, or methylation, of the DNA double helix, which is exquisitely sensitive to the environment, particularly in the early stages of life.
During this process, the methyl group — a quartet of atoms — attaches to a specific gene and sends it a message to silence it, reduce its expression or, in some way, alter its function.
Science used to regard this configuration — often termed the “epigenome” — as merely responsible for cell differentiation, ensuring that even though every cell carries identical DNA, certain cells turn into a nose and others into an arm.
But as increasing evidence demonstrates, the epigenome’s true function is to act as an interface between outside and inside the body, as the gene’s interpreter of environmental signals.
This signaling occurs outside the gene and does not alter the genetic sequencing or interfere in any way with the letters of the four-unit genetic code. This means that the true controller of a gene and whether it is activated or not is the host of influences outside the body.
Stripped down to its basics, one cell of any person — or animal — is indistinguishable from any other. Take the membrane off one of my 40 trillion cells and you can successfully implant it into your body. A cell has no individuality unless it interacts with its environment.
Outside influences will determine a cell’s expression and how it reacts within its world, whether it will conform or be an outlaw to its fellows. As my dear friend biologist Bruce Lipton notes in his groundbreaking book, The Biology of Belief, the real brain of a cell is its membrane.
Rather than the nucleus, external influences filtering through the cellular membrane control the cell, and consequently the behavior and health of the entire organism. Epigenetic changes and the ultimate expression or silencing of a gene occur as a result of environmental stressors.
Diet, the quality of air and water, the emotional climate within your family, the state of your relationships, your sense of fulfilment in life – the sum total of how you live your life and also how your ancestors lived theirs —has the most effect on the expression of your genes. Every factor in our lives conspires to create the physical person that we become.
At the forefront of this research has been a team at McGill University in Montreal led by Moshe Szyf, an Israeli-born professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Szyf’s lab owns five patents on DNA products and one patent pending, all for DNA formulations that he hopes will change the course of medical history.
He believes that, within the human epigenome, he will find the cure for cancer, which, in his view, has to do with manipulating the methylation process—the coating of DNA—so that the on-switch for cancerous genes gets turned off permanently.
Szyf has discovered that a major hallmark of cancer is an aberration in methylation patterns, so that genes needed for rapid cell growth, invasion and metastasis aren’t kept in check.
Although other researchers think the issue has mostly to do with too much methylation around a gene, Szyf believes the problem has to do with both too much and too few; too much methylation in breast cancer, for instance, silences genes necessary to regulate cell growth, and too little tends to activate genes involved in rapid metastasis.
Szyf’s patents cover products that will regulate the methylation process in individuals with cancer, a process he’s been able to demonstrate in human cancer cell lines in the lab.
Discoveries in epigenetics like this represent the ultimate apostasy to biologists Jame Watson and Charles Crick’s theory of DNA, with its central dogma that genes determine how we respond to our environment.
As increasing evidence shows, the reverse is true: our environment determines how our genes will respond. The environment outside our bodies determines the environment within. We are constructed by a delicate interplay of substances, inside and outside of our physical borders.
A Bond exists between the blueprint within our cells and everything we connect with in our world throughout our lives. Like subatomic particles, our physical body is not a discrete entity, but the end product of a relationship.
Sign up and receive FREE GIFTS including The Power of Eight® handbook and a special video from Lynne!