Planet Earth

Epigenetics and the Brain: Woo-free Coolness

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerJun 17, 2010 1:39 PM

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In my latest column for Discover, I take a look at epigenetics and the brain. Along with the genetic circuitry in the DNA of our brain cells, we also have an additional layer of molecules that can switch genes on and off. A lot of this so-called epigenome gets locked into place when our brains are first developing, but it still remains malleable throughout our lives. Our environment can rework our epigenome, and some studies suggest that this reworking may produce long-term changes in personality. Even mental conditions like depression may be partly epigenetic. And if we can figure out how conditions like depression alter the epigenome, we may be able to re-alter it to counter those disorders. For some reason, epigenetics is getting burdened with a lot of sensationalist quasi-mysticism these days. Epigenetics does not overturn everything we ever knew about everything. But it's possible for something to be woo-free and cool at the same time, as I hope my column makes clear. Check it out. [Image: U.S. Army Center of Military History]

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