The definition of epigenetics is “heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence; a change in phenotype without a change in genotype. Epigenetic change is a regular and natural occurrence but can also be influenced by several factors including age, the environment/lifestyle, and disease state” (What Is Epigenetics). Basically, the term ‘epigenetics’ refers to how a person’s environment can have an effect on their DNA, even after they are born. Epigenetics explain how people who live in the same area tend to have similar personality characteristics, beyond what is expected due to society and how people who become friends begin to pick up each others’ habits after a while. For example, consider what the potential consequences would be of finding definitive evidence for genetics influencing sexuality and/or gender identity. There has been talk of being able to determine a baby’s sexuality or gender identity before they are even born by doing prenatal blood tests (Richards). And chances are that any soon-to-be parents who would be concerned with knowing their baby’s sexuality would be the ones who don’t accept LGBTQ+ people, which would cause them to have a bias against their own child before they are even born. In an observational study conducted using 400 gay men in the United States. Their DNA was compared to see if there were any unusual similarities or patterns in their chromosomes which weren’t apparent in heterosexual men and could be a possible genetic factor which contributed to their homosexuality. What researchers found was that there was a certain region on the X chromosome (Xq28) which impacted a man’s sexual inclinations. A male embryo receives one Y chromosome, from his father, and one X chromosome from his mother. Therefore if being gay is an inherited trait, it is most probably passed on from the mother. But Xq28 is not likely to be the only region of the genome which has an effect on a person’s sexuality; researchers suspect certain genes in chromosome 8 also play a role, which would mean that a male’s father could also pass the gene down to him. Studies centered around sexuality have also been done with twins – both identical and fraternal – to determine the role genes play in influencing sexuality. Results showed that identical twins, especially those which were both female, were more likely to share the same sexuality than fraternal twins. This would support the hypothesis that sexuality is based on genetics because while fraternal twins only share half of their DNA, identical twins have the exact same DNA (Wolchover).
In our earlier article named Homo Evolutis, we debated whether it is ever right to edit human germ-line cells, to make changes that are inherited. This is banned in 40 countries and restricted in many others. There is no reason for a ban on research or therapeutic use: some countries, rightly, allow research on human embryos, as long as they are left over from in-vitro fertilisation and are not grown beyond 14 days; and Britain has allowed a donor to supply mitochondrial DNA at conception to spare children needless suffering. Being able to read, study and compare DNA sequences for humans, and thousands of other species, has become routine. A new technology promises to make it possible to edit genetic information quickly and cheaply. This could correct terrible genetic defects that blight lives. It also heralds the distant prospect of parents building their children to order. In other words discrimination or eliminations could become a norm even before the individual is born. Overall whether we like it or not the study of epigenetics is here to stay and could shape the future of human evolution for better or for worse.
Article contributed by Maria Yasir
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Richards, Sabrina. “Can Epigenetics Explain Homosexuality?” The Scientist. The Scientist, 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Are There Gay Women?” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 12 June 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.