Epigenetic alterations impact the expression of genes. As such, environmental factors play an important role in influencing our behavior or physiological aspects though certain epigenetic modifications. A clear interplay of how epigenetics affects the nature vs. nurture relationship can be observed in identical twins that have the same genes but have very different personality traits. Epigenetics provides an insight into the debate regarding nature vs. nurture in several ways. For instance, certain factors outside the gene can cause the repression of a certain gene. This process is triggered by a set of environmental factors that can lead to DNA methylation. The process of DNA methylation leads to “gene silencing” whereby a certain gene appears to be repressed due to the presence of factors that are independent of the DNA sequence of that particular gene (Rutter, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2006).
Epigenetics offers a way through which people can understand why people are unique and in nullifying the fact that acquired traits cannot be inherited. In Champagne & Mashoodh (2009), highlights that maternal care is passed through rodents, via epigenetic factors rather than genetic factors. When an infant is exposed to low levels of maternal care, there is an increase in methylation of estrogen receptor promoter which leads to a decrease in receptor expression thus less display of maternal care in that offspring. This can analogy can be helped to explain parenting behavior in human offspring. Studying epigenetics offers an insight into how nurture can result in variations in the expression of genes, which are then transferred to offspring. However, exposure to other factors later in life that are not supportive of the particular trait can lead to the repression of that gene, hence the display of a different trait.
Research in epigenetics has other broader impacts on the society. For instance, the study of personality and the interplay of the environment can be used in structuring more effective techniques for behavioral therapy. Such research is also important in explaining certain observable traits from people in the same environment but respond differently to that environment (Tsankova, Renthal, Kumar, & Nestler, 2007). Research in epigenetics can be used to study social systems and how the nature of such systems affects people’s nature. This could be explained in terms of social class and how people from lower socio-economic statuses appear to behave in a similar way which those people from higher socio-economic settings act in a certain way. Furthermore, research in epigenetics can be used to analyze the development of human beings in different settings.
Through the Champagne and Mashoodh (2009) article, it is clear that there has been a breakthrough in establishing a relationship between variations and the environment. As such, the expression of genes can be altered by environmental factors. This can be very useful in the field of treatment for mental disorders that are related to genetic factors. Future research in epigenetics might discover efficient techniques for suppressing the expression of genes that cause mental illnesses and other illnesses that are related to the gene. This would be quite significant in the eradication of bad genetic traits and in the boosting of the expression of good genes. Future research might also discover how to mitigate crime through the alteration of the expression of genes that are predictors for criminal behavior in individuals. This could entail the study of the interplay of psychology and genes. As such, psychologists would be able to easily reform criminals and other individuals who are violent in nature. This would enhance medical care thus improve the medical system without jeopardizing the uniqueness of individuals in the society. Future research in epigenetics could offer a lee way through which the society can become a safer and better place.
Champagne, F. A., & Mashoodh, R. (2009). Genes in Context Gene–Environment Interplay and the Origins of Individual Differences in Behavior.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(3), 127-131.
Rutter, M., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2006). Gene-environment interplay and psychopathology: Multiple varieties but real effects. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01557.x
Tsankova, N., Renthal, W., Kumar, A., & Nestler, E. J. (2007). Epigenetic regulation in psychiatric disorders. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 8, 355–67. doi:10.1038/nrn2132