Write about epigenetics…
You and I and everyone else in this world, well every thing else in this world, with DNA at least, have genes. Genetics is the science of understanding which genes we have. Epigenetics, then, must be something different. My vague recollection includes a brief entry for this topic, so I’ll try to make an educated guess, or at least bullshit you into believing I know what I’m writing about.
The introductory “epi-” must mean we’re talking about more than the physical structure of the genes themselves. That’s the way specific combinations of the molecules A (adenosine), G (guanine), T (toramine), and C (cytosine) are arranged in sequence. Epi- means not just what genes do you have, but what genes do you use. It’s sort of like metaphysics for the physical (ironically metaphysics is not about the physical at all!) world. Meta physics is the “meta-“, the “more than” physical. The “beyond” physical. The intellectual, the emotional, the psychological – structural elements of every thing beyond the stuff of matter and quarks and electrons and Newton’s Laws and thermodynamics. Could have named it “meta-genetics”, but I think that the audience would get confused. They would have thought it was covering population-level ideas. Because we use “meta-” often to talk about umbrella policies, things that cover a whole swath of one area of study. Meta-studies are studies of other studies, like you examine all of the arguments and research conclusions in individual published papers, and draw a conclusion about conclusions. So a “meta-genetics” would possibly be interpreted as studying conclusions about population-level genetic trends and expressions over and above what shows up in individuals.
So our topic, “epi-” genetics, to be “beyond” what you have to what you use, is a slightly different topic. As I see it (and, of course, I see it clearly, duh, why else would I be writing so without authority on the subject?), epigenetics is the science of not only what genes we have, but how they express themselves in the life of the individual animal, or plant, or bacterium, in which they reside. [Aside – do bacteria have similar structures like vestigial organs, that humans do? What the hell even is a bacteria in any way? Why are we so afraid of them?] So that there may be genes for, say, ability to digest a certain enzyme. Let’s call it examplase (for example). So humans, at one time, needed to digest examplase because it was found in high concentrations among certain bushes & berries in, I dunno, the Sumerian Crescent. So, the one who digested examplase better, over time, were more survivor-like, and therefore more likely to pass on genes for digesting examplase to their offspring.
Now, fast-forward ten thousand years. There may be a gene for examplase in every single human around. But, it isn’t doing anything any longer, because not because there isn’t any examplase (there is, in the Sumerian Crescent), but because we have largely eliminated it from our diets. So even though we could use the energy processing systems of our digestive system in order to break down examplase, we don’t need to. So our bodies have recognized this and we have “turned off” the access to the examplase digestive instructions within the genetic code.
Maybe think of it as a library. All the sections have instructions as to what to do. If we want to do more, we add another section of instructions (genetic code), like adding more shelves of books. The’ll always be there. But, when we don’t need them immediately, we can turn out the lights and lock the door to that room for a while, safe in the evolutionary knowledge that if we ever need to go ack there, we could, and what we need will be waiting, patiently, to come to our rescue in our trials.