Scientists originally believed that we were born with a fixed genetic blueprint that determined our traits, behaviors, and health. Now, discoveries in the field of epigenetics have radically rebooted this theory by demonstrating that our DNA is more of a switchboard than a blueprint.
Epigenetics is the study of how external forces, such as your environment and life experiences, trigger on-off mechanisms on the genetic switchboard. It is the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. It affects how genes are read by cells and whether or not the cells should produce relevant proteins.
Epigenetic scientists are examining the mechanisms by which genes become expressed or silenced with the goal of understanding how we can influence their activity and change our genetic health outcomes (Psychology Today).
There are many variables when it comes to the chemical modifications that take place within our genes and that determine which will be turned off or on over time. Everything from aging, where you live, the trauma you experience, your exercise habits, what you eat, and who you come into contact with all play a role. When it comes to disease, certain genes are switched to an unhealthy state.
In Nessa Carey’s Epigenetics Revolution, we see a perfect analogy to explain epigenetics. Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script- instructions for all the participants of the movie to perform their roles. Subsequently, the DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting.
The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse. The findings, the authors concluded, supported an “epigenetic explanation.” The idea is that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which then is passed down to subsequent generations. The mark doesn’t directly damage the gene; there’s no mutation. Instead it alters the mechanism by which the gene is converted into functioning proteins, or expressed. The alteration isn’t genetic. It’s epigenetic. (www.whatisepigenetics.com)
There was a study done on a group of mice regarding epigenetic trauma passed down generationally. A mouse was allowed to enter a cage as a strong fruit smell permeated the air around the chamber. The mice was then given small shocks. This was done repetitively so that the mice began to shudder after just smelling the fruit smell without even being shocked. This reaction was passed down to their pups by at least two generations even though they had never experienced the smell prior. The offspring showed sensitivity when introduced to the smell and exhibited marked shuddering without the electric shocks present. There was even a change in brain chemistry and the olfactory system between the mice and their descendants, as well as the fear processing areas of the brain become bigger. This is known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.
Exodus 34:6-7 says,
“God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. Still, he doesn’t ignore sin. He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.”
So what does this all mean for us? Basically, the unprocessed trauma from our parents, grandparents, and most likely generations before them, has an affect on us. When one generation does not deal with their trauma, it will get passed on to subsequent generations.
It is paramount to heal trauma, not only for our sake, but for the sake of our descendants.