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Whitman County, Washington by Ralph Teller Science

Gene Expression and Nutrition

The topic of Gene Expression and Nutrition is a focus upon how our Nutrition impacts how Genes function at the cellular level and how this interaction affects health. This is an important topic because of how diet affects the way genes are expressed, the effect of genes on how the body uses nutrients, and the effects of nutrients on molecular level processes in the body.

The regulation of Gene Expression gives the cell control over the versatility and adaptability of any organism and serves as a substrate for evolutionary change. This is profound since our diet has some impact on our genetic code which is passed on to the next generation. The more nutritious our diet the stronger will be the genes which will get passed on. We are what we eat. But to some extent, our children and grandchildren are what we eat also.

Gene chain
Courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

Let’s step back briefly to some basic biology. A Gene is the basic unit of heredity in all organisms. All living things depend on DNA to pass on their traits to offspring. In cells, a gene is a portion of an organism's DNA which contains both "coding" sequences that determine what the gene does, and "non-coding" sequences that determine when the gene is active (expressed.) When a gene is active, the coding and non-coding sequences are copied producing an RNA copy of the gene's information. RNA is central to protein synthesis. This piece of RNA can then direct the synthesis of proteins via the genetic code. Gene expression is the process by which inheritable information stored in a gene is made into functional gene products such as protein or RNA.

From a practical standpoint, knowledge of the interactions between Gene Expression and Nutrition can be applied in the field of nutrigenetics to improve dietary guidelines for populations, or to tailor-make specific diets for individuals, The interaction between diet – health – genes can aid tailor-made specific diets for individuals for preventative health management and as an aid in curing illness. This interaction can also be utilized by athletes to maximize athletic performance. Lance Armstrong is probably as good a scientist on self nutrigenetics and athletic performance as he is a cyclist. His detailed focus on his nutrient intake played a key role in his cycling success.

Interaction between Gene Expression, Nutrition and Metabolism

There currently is great interest and research in understanding the interaction between nutrition - health – genes as it impacts metabolism. There is recognition that increasing knowledge on metabolic pathways to gain understanding on metabolism as a whole, will help provide guidance to individuals to make specific changes to their diets and lifestyles to affect metabolism in a net positive direction.

What scientists learn about the interaction between Gene Expression and Nutrition will have the potential to help prevent many diseases, and greatly affect our optimal nutrition and health. As we each differ in our metabolic regulation, the optimal diet for one person is not necessarily the optimal one for another. Determining which diet is best for each individual will require personalized assessment.

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