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Genetics does not determine one's fate.

Even if some of our parents told us that a stork delivered us into the cradle to avoid an unpleasant narrative about intercourse, the moment we were conceived was determined by the meeting of a sperm carrying the father's genetic information with an egg carrying the mother's genetic information. Twenty-three pairs of chromosomes carry the genetic code that encompasses everything from eye color, height, and appearance to how the digestive system, immune system, and respiration system operate within that fertilized egg—assuming that genetic information is the master plan for the overall creation of all of the processes and organs that make up our bodies.

Does this imply that our genetic code also controls our destiny, determining who we become and whether we become empathic, happy, or anxious?

Our genes do not determine our fate.

Fortunately, despite our genetic code, nature has given us flexibility - the ability to be empathic, happy, or anxious. How is this conceivable if our genetic code lays out the blueprint for every process and organ in our bodies? The additional layer above our genetic code, known as the epigenetic layer, offers insight into all of this. For example, if children grow up in a high-threat setting like the Gaza Strip communities, their stress system (uneasiness, anxiety) should strive better to ensure survival as needed. Epigenetic changes will result in this scenario, causing the stress system to respond more frequently or harshly than if the children were born in a less stressful environment. As a result, the answer to "Who we are" is no longer a mystery. Our children's genetics interact with the environment we provide them, generating epigenetic instructions for how genes are expressed and shaping who they are. To further clarify this point, I spoke with Dr. Pernille Darling Rasmussen of the University of Copenhagen, who recently published a research on the influence of parenting on epigenetic processes in children, specifically the process that creates the epigenetic code that forms the basis of their personality traits.

Dr. Rasmussen, why is it important for parents or parents-to-be to understand epigenetic processes?

"In my response, I'll try to put aside my professional background as a doctor and researcher and reply to the topic as a mother of three children. I value the epigenetic viewpoint as a mother because it blurs the line between people who believe in environmental effects and those who believe in inheritance. Those who believe in heredity believe that reality is predetermined and directed by fate, limiting their parental responsibilities. Environmentalists struggle to understand that our genetics have effects and that changing established systems is challenging. The more we realize that heredity and environment are closely intertwined, the better we will understand ourselves and our stress responses, allowing us to manage our parental reactions better and raise healthier children."

What is the most important finding from your research?

"The main message from my study of parenting's significance for epigenetic processes in children is that their parents' traumas may influence children's biological activity. That is, incidents that occurred to their mother or even grandma may impact their children.

For example, if someone has a tendency to be worried and can't seem to identify an explanation for it, we used to explain it by saying that people simply have a different personality. While this broad statement remains accurate, epigenetic research provides a greater understanding of how parents pass on genetically affecting processes to their children, as well as the prevention and promotion of healthy development."

What, in your opinion, should be the field's next step?

"My easy response is to perform more research! More research could bring epigenetic insights to the general public, allowing them to grasp better the processes and settings in which epigenetic interactions are generated. Many people, I believe, will breathe a sigh of relief if they realize that the environment has a significant impact on many aspects of our lives and that we have a lot of control over it, including our child-rearing environment.

Until recently, our understanding of what genetic effects were attributed to an inflexible influence - if you have a particular gene, your fate will be a particular fate. It was once thought that inheriting a specific gene was equivalent to winning or losing the lottery, in that you had no choice over the fate you inherited. Epigenetics explains that our genes may or may not determine our destiny. It's crucial to note that epigenetics doesn't alter on a daily basis and that epigenetic changes require a stable environment over time, but knowing that we can influence our fate and how our genetics are expressed is a tremendously empowering and reassuring knowledge."

Finally, you mentioned in the study that research has demonstrated that violence against women causes epigenetic changes in mothers, manifesting themselves in post-trauma. These changes have an impact on the children's personalities as well. Could you elaborate on how this relationship might happen?

"There is the knowledge that we have known for years - children respond to their parents' fear and stress responses - and in this case, children respond to their moms' worry following their exposure to domestic violence. The new point here is, Unfortunately, it appears that even if we have never been exposed to violence, we can still be influenced by epigenetic modifications that our mothers pass on to us through genetic processes."

What can parents learn from frogs about parenting?

As expecting or new parents, we are frequently confronted with questions like, "How do I offer my child a happy childhood if I didn't have one?" Alternatively, "What influence do I have on my children?" We frequently seek guidance from hundreds of online and offline sources, including forums, support groups, physicians, counselors, coffee readings, palm readers, calling a friend for advice, and blogs, such as this one. According to a new study published by a group of Australian experts, we can learn a thing or two about parenting from frogs.

Frogs and parenting: what's the connection?

One of the key concerns that academics and parents are addressing is whether my life experiences, such as my childhood, the events I've witnessed, and my fears and anxieties, may affect the child that comes. The basic answer is "absolutely": my background influences my behavior, and my attitude influences my kids' behavior.

For example, if I had a life-changing experience that caused me anxiety, I would be an anxious person. As a result, being a worried parent and my nervous behavior inspires my children's anxiousness. As researchers, we're familiar with anxiety passing between family members and parent-child interactions, and there's a lengthy list of studies to back it up. What if, as a parent, I strive not to display my anxiety in front of my children? Will this break the chain, and my fear won't be passed on to them because I won't act anxiously around them?

Unfortunately, the answer is not always satisfying or straightforward. Anxiety, it turns out, may penetrate under our skin into the behavior of our genetic code (DNA), which can then be passed on to our children as genetic behavior instructions. What makes you think that? Research on frogs.

A group of researchers led by Roshmi R. Sarma set out to see if it was possible to prove that parental behavior may be passed down to kids at the level of gene behavior, a level known as epigenetics. To do so, scientists gathered frogs from all over Australia who had fairly typical behavior when exposed to distress calls from other frogs, such as increased growth and defensive behavior. They can survive in a hostile environment because of these two. When frogs were exposed to distress calls, the researchers discovered that they grew faster and became more protective. Even though they were not subjected to distress sounds, their descendants and offsprings (third-generation distress calls) demonstrated an accelerated development rate and defensive behavior. That is, behavior learned by frogs in reaction to an environmental event has been passed down from generation to generation, defining the behavior of that generation.

Furthermore, the researchers altered the way the frogs respond genetically (at the epigenetic level) through chemical intervention to ensure that the epigenetic mechanism was responsible for the process they observed. They discovered that, compared to a control group of frogs, epigenetic modification resulted in rapid growth and defensive behavior in the frogs themselves and their children and offspring's descendants. The researchers discovered that an experience that causes an epigenetic modification can have repercussions that affect future generations.

These studies show that experiences in our lives can impact our personalities and how our biological activity affects the way our genes function. Therefore, even if we do not display our behavior in their presence, the epigenetic code may be inherited and still influence our children.


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