Behavioral Epigenetics

Penguin If you’re not genetically built to fly, all the flapping in the world won’t lift you off the ground. I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional miracle, but I’d rather see you waddle magnificently than flail in endless frustration trying to soar in a hostile climate.”

– “Clara Loup” in the novel CHASING CURES by April Avey

My first novel, CHASING CURES, is complete and en route to a list of carefully prospected agents and publishers. I had some very encouraging feedback from agents and mentors at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference in Portland in August. Cross your fingers, say a prayer, and stay tuned to hear what happens. A prevalent question at this stage seems to be ‘what’s next?’ I’m happy to report I actually have an answer to that question.

Behavioral epigenetics has captured my imagination and will be a theme in my next book, THE BEST OF HER. Did you know trauma can alter your DNA and pass structural changes to future generations? There are actually scientists studying intergenerational effects of trauma.

Of course, trauma has existed in biblical proportions since the inception of mankind and it would stand to reason that we all carry traces of it.  Some population groups are certainly more susceptible than others and I imagine those who suffered through genocides and managed to survive are among the most affected.  Today it’s Syria and many of us cringe and wonder what we can do to help as we watch the news. The list of Diasporas throughout history is long and devastating to mankind.

Shirley Matheson

Shortly before my grandmother died, she told us she was Jewish and had never told anyone, including my grandfather. He died before her, none the wiser. We found her news fascinating, but we puzzled over the lengths she’d taken to hide it. It’s a long tale, but as you can imagine, there was trauma at the heart of it. April Avey

My new book will approach this subject on a lighter scale. I won’t pretend to fully comprehend the concept of behavioral epigenetics, the field is still in its infancy and researchers are quick to point out they don’t have all the answers. It fascinates me though. I wonder how this kind of knowledge might affect how we manage obstacles in our lives.  I’m sure there are psychological pitfalls, but if you knew, for example, that your grand or great grandparent faced a certain trauma that altered their DNA and left you predisposed to certain related disorders, would it equip you to affect change in your own life?

It works both ways; we can inherit positive attributes as well as negatives ones and I’d like to illustrate both.  In his article, Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes, from the May 2013 issue of DISCOVER, Dan Hurley said “…mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too.” He goes on to say “…our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn.”

I’m interested in how this intersects with Christianity as well. The bible is full of stories that played out over generations on people prone to forgetting the significance of what their ancestors experienced despite genetics factors that positioned them for resulting change.

This topic could keep me going for a while, but I’ll sign off here.

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