My last post talked about research into the impact of stress on our DNA - or, more specifically, on the “expression” of our genes. I realized the word expression might be confusing - the concept is that changing the methylation of a gene can change the genes impact - some articles even talk about the gene being turned on and off with the addition or removal of a methyl group.
Surprisingly, given my last post, when I was reading the 10/24/2011 edition of Chemical & Engineering News (a publication of the American Chemical Society) yesterday I found another article on genetic expression. But, this time the article was focused on RNA.
OK - DNA is made up of genes - and, as you recall from your high school biology class, each of your parents give you about half of your genes.
RNA translates DNA’s genetic coding into actual proteins needed by our body. That is a simplified explanation. In reality, RNA, like DNA, is pretty complex.
But, back to the C&EN article. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that an enzyme can remove a methyl group from a specific type of RNA - a messenger RNA (or mRNA if you are into abbreviations). This suggests that RNA may have a role in genetic expression. But, the thing that got my attention was the fact that the enzyme that removes the methyl groups is a protein that is linked to obesity and diabetes. Previously the proteins cellular role was not clear.
My take on all of this - our bodies are amazingly complex - in my last posting I discussed how a mothers stress can impact the expression of their children’s genes. Now there is evidence that RNA’s expression can be reversibly changed, and that a protein associated with obesity and diabetes acts as the switching agent.
While this does not suggest there is “fat” gene, it does suggest that our genetic expression can be changed such that we have a propensity for obesity and diabetes. Question naturally is, what causes this change in our genetic expression?
My hope is that one day such research will help us understand the unforseen impacts of our environment (such as stress) on our genetic expression. Who knows, perhaps such knowledge will help all of us better control our weight and fight diabetes!