Dr. Eric J. Nestler, Director of Friedman Brain Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City discussed with Scientific American how environmental stresses that we encounter everyday play a role in our genetic makeup. Dr. Nestler describes throughout the interview how through the process of genetic modifications, the expression of genes in the human genome can be regulated as a result of certain environmental pressures experienced by the individual. In certain cases, these genetic modifications can be passed down to our offspring via epigenetic inheritance. While the idea of epigenetic inheritance may sound daunting to the general population, it is a concept that most people have become familiar with. Dr. Nestler provides a great example in the case of a female mouse who is fed a high-fat diet. The progeny of this mouse, before they are ever exposed to any diet, are likely to be more vulnerable to becoming obese due to the inherited genetic modifications as a result of their mother's high-fat diet. Whether we are discussing an individual who is more prone to becoming obese or has a greater risk to becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, through the study of epigenetics, researchers are discovering that it is not Nature or Nurture, but Nature and Nurture that play a vital role in our genetic makeup. But are these changes permanent? Why should I have to pay for the experiences of my parents?
According to Professor Isabelle Mansuy from the University of Zurich, we may not have to...At least permanently. In an interview with Scientific American, Prof. Mansuy explains, "The effects of trauma which can be transmitted to the offspring can be reversed by a positive experience." Just as a negative environment can be linked to the genetic modifications found in both parent and progeny, a positive environment may be able to reverse those modifications. In a society where our first response to any problems always seems to be, "Hey, there's a pill for that!", Prof. Mansuy proposes that drugs may not be the only or even the best solution. Through epigenetic research, scientists are gaining a more in depth look as to how a positive environment can possibly reverse not only the effects of epigenetic modifications, but possibly modifications made to the individual who experienced the traumatic event.