Epigenetics | anti-ageing at a genetic level

Genes that are turned on and off through the process of acetylation and methylation. Image courtesy of www.nichd.nih.gov

Cosmetic science is increasingly looking at anti-ageing processes at a cellular and genetic level.

Until recently, it was accepted knowledge that humans weren’t able to control the genes we inherit at conception. However, research into feast-and-famine patterns of the 1800s in the very north of Sweden has challenged that theory. Scientists found that the life expectancies of later generations were dramatically affected by their ancestors’ diet.

Enter the discovery of epigenetics: ie changes in gene expression not caused by changes in the DNA sequence.

The beauty of epigenetics is that it may allow us to take control over our genome, and this could provide opportunities that positively influence our health, including skin and hair health. But to get a better understanding what this all means, let’s go back a few steps and decipher some of these terms.

DNA

  • DNA contains coding information for around 20,000 genes. Humans have 6 billion base pairs of DNA divided between the 46 chromosomes, and a small DNA molecule in the mitochondrion.
  • Genes direct the process of creating proteins – the building blocks of all organisms.
  • Short sections of DNA are wound around proteins called histones.
  • Fun fact: If we stretched out a human DNA chain, it would be around two metres long.

Gene expression

  • During gene expression, a specific part of DNA encodes a strand of messenger RNA – a family of molecules that convey genetic information from DNA to the ribosome (the site of protein synthesis).
  • Different sets of genes are turned on and off in various cells at various times. The types and amounts of proteins produced determine how a cell looks, acts and grows.

Genome

  • Is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism.

Epigenome

  • Meaning ‘above’ the genome, epigenome consists of chemical compounds that mark the genome and tell it what to do.
  • These marks can be passed from cell to cell as they divide, and from generation to generation.

Epigenetic beauty applications

Two of the most important reactions that take place in the epigenome are acetylation and methylation.

If enzymes can’t attach to the DNA due to the blocking nature of the methyl group, the gene remains off – a process dubbed methylation.

The arrangement of methyl groups can change over the course of a lifetime, and diet and environmental stress are the two major contributing factors in determining epigenetic change.

What research has discovered is, by altering methylation patterns, we can promote and restore positive epigenetic gene interaction and target anti-ageing in skin care.

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