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SpongeBob and the Alpha Project Discuss Epigenetics

What determines a person's identity? After all, we all know that people differ in a wide range of personal qualities, but how do these differences arise, and what variables affect human characteristics? Let's use the characters SpongeBob and Squidward from the "SpongeBob SquarePants" children's show as an example. Squidward is cranky, grumpy, and pessimistic, and he is the absolute opposite of SpongeBob, who is cheerful, smiling, a little naive, and usually optimistic. What shaped SpongeBob into the character he is today? Is it his family and the environment where he grew up that differentiated him from Squidward, or does the genetic inheritance he inherited from his parents account for the majority of the differences between the two characters?

This is just one example of the interpersonal differences found in different personalities. Indeed, our genetics, the information found in our DNA, the potential they hold, and the environment in which we grow up all impact its formation. However, the way the environment promotes or suppresses the expression of our genes has a substantial influence.

Today, we know that the environment in which we grow up can inhibit the expression of one gene or promote the expression of another gene through biological mechanisms and thus have a significant effect on how a person's characteristics manifest. Epigenetics is the name given to this field of research.

Epigenetics has gotten a lot of interest in the scientific community in recent years. The readers of Science Magazine nominated an Israeli research using epigenetics, as the breakthrough of 2019. The study focused on the Denisovan people, who lived in Asia until roughly 50,000 years ago. The Denisovans were archaic humans related to Neandertals, whose populations intermingled with modern-day humans' ancestors. A handful of their bones have been discovered over the years, including a girl's small finger found in a Siberian cave. The researchers examined how genes that were "silenced" through an epigenetic process influenced the physical properties of the Denisovan human, using epigenetic analysis of a protein retrieved from the same bone. Based on the information that specific genes were not expressed, they could determine what that ancestor looked like. The researchers constructed a comprehensive physical image of the identical Denisovan individual using just one little bone of that little finger.

This is just one form of epigenetics used in research. Epigenetics is at the forefront of science in various fields, including medicine and biology. The Alpha project aims to integrate epigenetics with psychology, giving rise to a new and exciting field of study called personality epigenetics. Our traits, behavioral tendencies, and ways of thinking differentiate us from each other.

Could there be an epigenetic effect on our personality formation (the effect of the environment on the expression of our genes)? Could it be that if we had grown up in a different environment, our DNA, which has so many possibilities, would have expressed different personality traits, and we would have evolved to be someone different than we are now? Is there a personal difference between someone happy and someone who isn't because of these processes? This is an intriguing topic that the Alpha Project explores. With your help, we hope to establish an epigenetic map of who we are, learn more about traits like empathy and healthy development, and finally figure out how parents may help their children develop these traits.


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