We have all heard of genes and genetics, and how our DNA is the essence of who we are. But our bodies are complex machines. So, while each and every cell in your body has your entire genome within it, every cell’s purpose is not the same. How does a cell in your pancreas “know” that it has to produce insulin, or how does a different cell on your scalp “know” that it has to produce the pigment for your hair colour?
This is where epigenetics comes in: It is the feature (different chemical groups) that sits ‘on top’ of your DNA and instructs your cells on what their exact job is — like producing insulin or telling cells in our eyes to make proteins that can detect light. In a way, our DNA is a “set of instructions” in each cell that is being guided along by epigenetics.
These so-called tags on our genome are very important to the way we function. They can be good tags that help up function perfectly, or bad tags, which can make us prone to diseases. The study of our epigenome, therefore, has become critical to our understanding of the human body and for efforts to improve human health.