Imagine a future where we have the technology to engineer our biological molecules to enhance performance. What if we could change the functions of our molecules? What if we can crack the epigenetics of diet?
Whether it is something you fear or a potential that makes you excited, let’s not ignore one thing:
Nanotechnology is moving at a rapid pace, and scientists are beginning to unlock the secrets of the human genome. We can try to slow it down, but we cannot stop it.
It is in our nature to explore and push the boundaries. In fact, one can say it’s already too late to go back to the old system of non-interference with evolutionary biology.
GMO risks health and food supply
With respect to our food supply, nanotechnology is already here, and it is irreversible. We have moved from breeding crops for higher yields to genetically modifying food sources to include functional nutrients.
Growth hormones are being utilized to accelerate growth rates of our food sources.
GMO food dangers to human health will be amplified if genetic engineering technology continues to move faster than humanity’s understanding of nutritional science.
On the positive side…
DNA of plants is being engineered to enhance yield, reduce water consumption, develop resistance to pests, and allow for growth in poor soil and saline environment.
Some endeavors cannot be justified as good for humanity but are done for commercial and marketing purposes, like introducing impotence in crops and making fruits sweeter. But these are areas where regulatory oversight can be implemented to reduce risk in the food supply system.
Why GMO food sources might be necessary
Despite the evidence that carbohydrate-restricted diets are beneficial to health, the planet’s food supply cannot support the switch to animal fats that would result should we return to the dietary standards of the 19th century. The population of the planet is simply too high to eat like our paleolithic ancestors.
Now, you might find yourself asking: could GMO food have health benefits? Read on to find out:
The good news is that advancements in genetics is taking us beyond high-yield crops and taking us into a new era of customizing food to increase nutritional benefits:
- Food nanotechnology is going to take humanity beyond today’s nutrient-poor staple crops;
- Research into micronutrients is expanding public knowledge and increasing demand for functional food;
- The boundary between food and medicine is becoming increasingly blurred;
- Food is now understood as an exposure that affects our gene expression (for more, read below);
- Nutrigenomic tests will personalize dietary recommendations;
- We have the nanotechnology to detect what single molecules do and determine their interactions with enzymes.
Why bioinformatics is important for genomics research on nutrition
Genome sequencing is becoming cheaper every year, and companies are now marketing personal genome testing kits. As we begin to master bioinformatics and the DNA record expands, scientists will be able to identify more genes associated with specific nutritional needs.
Here’s the big game changer:
Generic diets will fall out of fashion. What is true for the majority of the population may not be true for individuals with key genetic variations that prevent them from benefiting from general dietary guidelines.
And of course, some questions remains open:
Gene Expression of the Epigenome and Food
The good news is that some of these abnormalities and intolerance to food are the result of gene expression of epigenetic modifications that have nothing to do with changing the sequence of our DNA. Rather, it works by turning on and off various genes through molecular interactions with DNA that repress the underlying genes.
First, let’s go over a few concepts to help us understand the difference between the actual DNA sequence and the gene expression of the epigenome.
Genes vs. Gene Expression
In a previous article on optimal weight loss, we read about a group of genes called Haplotype D, which determined the conversion rate of omega-3 and omega-6 fats and caused its carriers to have a severe reaction to omega-6 fats. These variations are coded in the genome.
In another article’s comments here, the CYP1A2 Genotype was discussed with respect to its impact on caffeine metabolism.
Both of these are examples of gene variations in the core DNA, and there are many more beyond the scope of this article.
Epigenetics describes the process by which genes are switched on and off to differentiate functions of different cellular tissue, which is why we have cells with the same DNA performing different functions in different organs. Environmentally influenced biochemical marks on the genome can also be copied in new cells, which change gene expression without altering the primary DNA.
Epigenetics Influenced by Nutrients
We can modulate our epigenome by dietary changes. Epigenetic modifications can be triggered by nutrition because nutrients influence the patterns of DNA methylation, and they change the activities of enzymes.
Nature is full of examples where the epigenome of organisms changes as a response to nutritional changes. Take honeybees, for example: Queens and workers are determined by what food these creatures were fed, namely royal jelly or beebread.
Another widely cited example is the maternal diet of the Agouti mouse, which affects the coat color and metabolism of its offspring. In this example, the principle of a fetus undergoing epigenetic modifications through diet is introduced, which is a signficant factor when determining the appropriate diet for any person.
Genetic Mutations and Aging
We can try to slow down time, but aging eventually overtakes all our efforts to stop it. Gene mutations are caused by oxidative stress, and oxidative stress causes further gene mutations as free radicals interact with DNA. This self-reinforcing process can be modulated by the right nutrients.
As an example, let’s take the MnSOD gene, which governs the formation of a protein in the mitochondria that binds to superoxide byproducts of oxidative metabolism. Mutations in this gene are responsible for accelerated aging, neurological disease and cancer. Sometimes the cause of abnormality is that the MnSOD gene is epigenetically repressed.
With advances in genomics, we will begin to understand which nutrients or nutraceuticals will trigger the epigenetic modifications to reverse the side-effects of aging, like deactivating tumor suppressing genes that prevent excessive cell proliferation.
How does this affect our diet planning?
Not to fret; genetic mutations and an unlucky draw in the genetic lottery are not the end of our effort for a healthy lifespan through better diet. The fact is that many genetic variations have had their purpose at some point in time and enabled those subgroups of humanity to survive challenging environments. Identifying them is the first step, and figuring out what nutrients we can and cannot tolerate is next.
Nutrients interact with humans at the molecular level.
The individual with an impaired MnSOD gene that is unable to produce sufficient endogenous antioxidants can supplement with exogenous antioxidants. If one understand the metabolic process, this is especially true after a long exercise when oxidation is happening at higher rate. If you knew yourself to be at risk, the prudent thing to do is to ingest a food source high in antioxidants.
Studies have shown some nutrients to be anticarcinogenic when they work to alter normal epigenetic states. So it is even possible to counteract some pollutants in our environment with some of these bioactive dietary components.
Food sources that have sulforaphane (cruciferous vegetables) and EGCG (found in green tea) can help us protect our DNA from abnormal epigenetic encoding of DNA and RNA. Calorie restriction diets decelerate the aging process by protecting DNA from oxidative stress, and restriction of dietary glucose decreases the risk of age-related disease like cancer and diabetes.
I don’t know about you, but I believe that we are embarking on a new era in evolution. The fact that we are able to turn on and off genes through epigenetic modifications induced by nutrients and nutraceuticals makes this project all the more urgent.
Commercial and political interests have embarked on another grand experiment with our food sources, the first one being the switch to the carbohydrate-rich and nutrient poor diet over the last century. The second being the genetic modification of food to make it more nutrient-rich. Only that scientists cannot seem to agree on what the good nutrients are.
We cannot stop it. We can only endeavor to understand it so that we can make the right choices for our selves and spread the word so that humanity thrives beyond this extraordinary experiment to shift humanity’s diet to something more sustainable. Simply stated, there are long-term consequences to what we eat today.