For a long time, we have collectively believed that directly inherited genetic traits play a major defining role in who we are and how we turn out. The new science of epigenetics is changing how we think about inherited traits, as it becomes clear that proclivities for certain behaviors shared by our parents are more than just learned. By inheriting genes with certain sequences “hidden” due to methylation (see below), we can become pre-disposed to certain behaviors, levels of stress hormones or neurotransmitters, and even certain diseases.
Epigenetics is defined as “the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself”. DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that occurs by the addition of a methyl (CH3) group to DNA. DNA methylation is an active process, constantly occurring and altering biological functioning as cells read DNA sequences for instruction. DNA methylation is vital to healthy growth and development- it enables the expression of retroviral genes to be suppressed, along with other dangerous DNA sequences in existence.