Environmental Epigenetics and Biomimicry

For my first blog, I’d like to talk a bit about a favorite topic of mine – environmental factors of epigenetics – and its relevance to biomimicry.

By now we all have come to see the scientific proof that genetics does not dictate our fate; we have the power to shape our life by the choices we make. Although we may still be at the surface of understanding what epigenetics has to offer, we know the way we live and eat could affect how our genes are expressed, and as a result, what proteins get activated in our body.

Interesting examples of epigenetics look at changes between identical twins over their lifespan. But humans are not the only species affected by environmental epigenetics; in this study [1] you can see how poplar tree clones responded differently to drought when grown in geographically contrasting habitats due to variations in DNA-methylation (one of the mechanisms of epigenetics).

However, this does not mean we can carelessly manipulate our planet’s environmental conditions with the hope that everyone will adapt. This news piece [2] talks about possible extinction of pandas due to our expansion into and destruction of their environments.

But on the main topic, I believe environmental factors of epigenetics can teach us quite a bit. Inspired by how sets of genes turn on or off depending on environmental conditions, causing alternations in gene expressions, could we produce materials from the same components with the ability to learn from their environment and specialize for a specific task? Do we need a product to adapt differently based on the locations to which they are assigned? 

1- Raj, S., Bräutigam, K., Hamanishi, E. T., Wilkins, O., Thomas, B. R., Schroeder, W., … Campbell, M. M. (2011). Clone history shapes Populus drought responses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(30), 12521–12526. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1103341108

2- http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/animal-attractions-amazing-tales-from-the-san-diego-zoo-nature-vs-nurture/2277/

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