Talking about ‘my science’ has been a joy to me, since when I decided to become a researcher at the age of 12. The meaning of ‘’my science’’ ranged from exploring the not-so-red color of a snail’s blood to capturing beautifully colored stem cells under the microscope through years. My science has always kept me passionate and curious about the miracle of the creation. Biology was the science of living, and as I was learning more about the molecular world I was introduced to, I became more and more aware of how it connects to the macro world I am living in. My aim in pursuing biological research as a life time education is to learn more and utilize this knowledge to increase my awareness of my Creator. Also, with duas and devotion, I want to connect my knowledge with something unknown to us, something that will be a ‘sadaqah jariyah’.
One thing I wish to do towards my goal is to interact with people about how science is not something unique to scientists. How it is not excluded in Islam, and how our understanding can be changed when we relate science to our core sources; which are Quran and Hadith. Science mostly, but especially my major genetics, is interpreted as a product of western society, unique to them, learned from them. It is only sad that even Muslims are deluded into this themselves, while many of the most significant foundations of today`s scientific literature were belonged to Muslim scholars whose works were translated into Western languages at the time. InshaAllah with many Muslim scientists, conscious observers and learners from around the world, this understanding will be changed. Now let me go ahead with introducing you one of the most amazing young fields in science, and how it can be related to many things we are familiar with. The examples I will be giving will not only try to explain my new curiosity, epigenetics, but also will share with you some insights I hope will draw your immediate attention regarding our daily lives.
Epigenetics is, as many others in biology, hard to describe with certain words. Epi- means an extra layer; so epigenetics is the extra information present on top of the genetic makeup an organism have. It is the sum of the mechanisms and chemical reactions which orchestrate the functioning of human genome (genome meaning the whole set of chromosomes including all the genes of an organism), and even the inheritance of it! Although I am more interested in those molecular mechanisms and reactions, I want to include here more relatable big scale examples of epigenetic studies.
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘you are what your parents ate’? One of the prominent examples of epigenetic influence over genes was the agouti gene experiment. The ‘agouti gene’ is found in mammals, and if it is not methylated (methylated gene means that there is an addition of a methyl chemical group on the gene, rendering the gene inactive), the fur is yellow and the mice are obese and prone to other diseases like diabetes. In normal mice, the gene is methylated (and so is switched off) and these ‘normal’ mice appear to be brown and thin. During this experiment, researchers put one group of pregnant mice on a methyl-rich diet while the other group was the control. The methyl-rich diet mice had offspring that were thinner and healthier through their lives.
We all know in a sense that what we eat affects our genes, as we supply our body with the chemicals that play role in shaping our genome with epigenetic mechanisms. But the mechanism of it comes with epigenetic research. Epigenetic inheritance is now just another subfield which claims that just as our genetic input, some of the epigenetic marks and mechanisms in our cells may as well inherited. There are even more than physiology, some behavioral studies also shows evidences of epigenetic inheritance. One famous example of it is the ‘licking vs non licking mother mice’ experiment, in which one group of mother mice licked their pups showing high nurturing to them compared to the low nurturing control group. High nurtured pups became more capable of managing stress later in their life, and they also became high nurturing mothers themselves. There are many similar studies, and for those who enjoyed the topic, here is a rather summed up talk on our parents’ influence on our epigenome. For those interested in how a the time of pregnancy is so important for your child’s future; here is another rather interesting talk.
Surely though, we ourselves can change the functioning of our own genes and body primarily, increasing the quality of our lives by being careful what to eat, exercising, keeping stress at a minimum and so on. Increasing studies are linking different activities with the perfectly designed mechanisms in our cells which affect the switching mechanisms in our genes and their synchronized work.
I like epigenetics for how easy it is to relate my lifestyle with the scientific evidence it brings on. And for how it rejects the hypothesis that you are born with a genetic code that will be your fate throughout. Also for how it appears as a potential path to follow against currently incurable diseases including cancer. Mostly for how it always reminds me some Islamic teachings we all hear and learn and maybe practice but do not know the exact mechanism behind. When it comes to nutrition for example; it reminds me of our religion’s emphasis on eating what is clean and halal. The little chemicals and players in our body apparently have a significant influence on our physiology and even behavior, so I find myself thinking about the imaginary experiment where I would compare halal vs haram food and their effects on the epigenome (all of the chemical compounds that can in a way regulate the activity (expression) of all the genes within the genome.) A few of many such verses in Quran given below clearly indicate the significance of eating carefully.
‘O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.’
‘And eat of what Allah has provided for you [which is] lawful and good. And fear Allah, in whom you are believers.’
Consequently, eating carefully -being selective on what we incorporate in our cells – has been a subject in Islamic teaching for a long time, even before the science of epigenetics was born.
The imaginary experiments I have in my mind also exist for many others; like how Ramadan is affecting our genes or how the habit of the night prayer would change us physically and/or mentally, and so on. Another interesting topic to me is the epigenetics in pregnancy. We know from our religion again that we should do certain things when pregnant, like reading and listening more of the Quran, being more cautious about what we see, say, hear and eat. Science just follows behind, but it is still amazing to hear from ‘my science’ as well that we can do something for the next generation, which will be inherited, which Insha’Allah will be our sadaqa.
I once listened a talk from our beloved leader, Prof.Dr.Mahmud Es’ad Cosan (Rh.a) in which he was saying that Muslims should live healthy and long, so that they can serve Islam even longer. Now we learned that we cannot just blame our genes or parents for the diseases or the discomfort we experience with our bodies. An Islamic lifestyle is the right key to everything, including a healthy body and the maximum beneficial use of our genes as well. Let’s follow it for all our might then. And the epigenetic studies will soon follow us too 🙂
Ps: The very last talk explaining epigenetics in a more structural and educative way:
Fatma Betul Yasar