Express yourself – an introduction to epigenetics

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Finding out all about epigenetics – what it means, how it affects you, what you can do to change it and how TruDiagnostic’s testing can help you to track your progress.

Nature or nurture? Well, the answer is both. Your genes may be determined at conception, but whether and how those genes are expressed is an ongoing process shaped by your experiences and the environment around you.

Longevity.Technology sponsored content: Your genetic blueprint is not set in stone; throughout your life, your DNA accumulates chemical tags and markers that control which genes are switched on or off and to what degree they are expressed. This. in turn, controls the production of proteins in particular cells. Although the DNA sequence isn’t changed, its operating instructions are, as the epigenome alters the way cells read and use the DNA’s instructions. The genetic ingredients stay the same, but the epigenetic recipe book changes over time, as notes are made, steps skipped or added and pages fray and become harder to distinguish. Epigenetic markers can also be passed on from cell to cell, and sometimes from parent to child.

What are epigenetic markers?

The epigenome is a set of chemical modifications attached to DNA that affects how the genes are expressed. These chemical tags come in two different flavours:

  • DNA methylation – this directly affects the DNA in a genome, as chemical tags called methyl groups, or methyls, are attached to individual DNA bases in specific places. The methyl groups are attached by proteins and switch genes on or off by adjusting interactions between the DNA and other proteins. These tags mean that cells can keep track of which genes are on or off.
  • Histone modification – affects DNA indirectly. DNA is a long string of information, so to keep it tidy and prevent damage, cellular DNA is wrapped around histone proteins; this forms a neatly wound-up package, rather like a spool. Just like on DNA, proteins can attach various chemical tags to the histones which can be detected by other proteins in cells, which then determine whether that region of DNA should be read or ignored in that particular cell.

Is the epigenome fixed?

No! Your epigenome is changing right from the get-go, with alterations happening throughout your lifetime. Right from conception, DNA methylation and rearrangement of histones happens as cells become specialised. The intrauterine environment to which a foetus is exposed also causes methylation.

TruDiagnostic

What causes epigenetic changes?

Life throws many challenges at us, and the epigenome allows our DNA expression to be altered in response. Various lifestyle and environmental factors (smoking, diet, infection, exposure to sunlight or pollution) can apply biological pressure that prompt chemical responses and result in methylation. DNA methylation is strongly correlated with aging, and if it causes malfunctions in protein expression, can lead to various diseases.

Epigenetic testing

Different parts of you may age at different rates. A more effective approach, therefore, can be to look at DNA methylation, overviewing a person’s genome and tracking how it changes over time.

TruDiagnostic is a company that specialises in epigenetic testing & research. With a multi-omic approach, TruDiagnostic uses a variety of algorithms to investigate the epigenome and gain insightful longevity analysis. They also measure a full suite of aging-related metrics, including telomere length measurements, intrinsic and extrinsic age calculations, immune cell subset deconvolution and current pace of aging.

Excitingly, TruDiagnostic has a licence from Duke University to use the Dunedin Pace of Aging by methylation algorithm; this algorithm analyses complex patterns of DNA methylation to detect just how fast a person is aging at the time they took the test. More sensitive to short-term changes in lifestyle than a standard biological age test, the DunedinPoAm can be used both in clinical trials and in individuals, meaning that changes in lifestyle, diet, or medication can be checked to see if they positively or negatively affect the rate of aging.

TruDiagnostic helps patients objectively track their aging with an at-home sample collection kit and a rapid laboratory turnaround for analysing and delivering epigenetic reports. With only a few drops of blood, customers can learn about their biological age and specific health risks. The company’s research team is constantly working to find and add more insights to their growing collection of reports.

Longevity.Technology reached out to Ryan Smith, Vice President of Business Development at TruDiagnostic, to find out why this space is so important.

“Because these biomarkers let us measure and track how someone’s lifestyle is impacting their overall long-term health, epigenetic testing has the potential to revolutionize the way people think about aging and what it means to live a healthy life,” he told us. “That’s why we designed TruAge to be simple to use, so anyone can learn about the effect their lifestyle has on their epigenetics. We want to empower people to take control of their future – and KNOW that their choices are having a positive impact.”

Epigenetic coaching

Epigenetics coaching teaches you how to activate or suppress gene expression. By altering lifestyle factors, such as your sleep, diet and exercise regimes, you can coach your genes to express themselves in certain ways and improve longevity. Part of TruDiagnostic’s personal epigenetic testing includes a free 30-minute telehealth consultation for first time users to go over results and start creating a plan to optimise the future.

Understanding your epigenome and DNA methylation can help you take the steps needed to keep your DNA fighting fit for a longer, healthier, life.

Images courtesy of TruDiagnostic
Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.

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