September/October 2012 Featured Stories
Act Locally, Evolve Globally
by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D.
The promise of spontaneous evolution signifies nothing less than a global transformation. But before we can reshape our outer environment, we must first be fully aware of the world within.
Beneath our skin is a bustling metropolis of 50 trillion cells, each of which is biologically and functionally equivalent to a miniature human. This is not a hyperbolic claim made merely for impact. No, indeed, because once we see the remarkable similarity between our cells and ourselves, we will begin to learn some of the processes and practices cells have refined over the course of billions of years.
We will also gain insight into how our cells created consciousness. And, by becoming more aware about how that consciousness operates within the cells, we can learn to rewrite our limiting beliefs at this pivotal time in our human evolution.
Conventional wisdom holds that the fate and behavior of our internal cellular citizens are preprogrammed in their genes. Since molecular biologists James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the genetic code in 1953, the public has been imbued with the perception that deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, acquired from our parents at the moment of conception determines our traits and characteristics. The conventional view of genetics further has us believe that our inherited gene programs are fixed and as unchangeable as a computer’s read-only program.
The notion that our fate is indelibly inscribed in our genes was directly derived from the now outdated scientific concept known as genetic determinism, which would have us believe that we are victims of genetic forces outside of our control.
Unfortunately, the assumption of powerlessness is a one-way street to personal irresponsibility. Too many of us have said, “Hey, I can’t do anything about it anyway, so why should I care? Overweight? It runs in my family. Pass me the bonbons.”
Somewhere Beyond Genes
By the 1980s, genetic scientists were convinced that genes controlled life. They thus set out to map the human genome, intending to identify the complete set of genes that define all of the heritable traits of the human organism. They hoped that, by revealing that code, they would find the key to finally preventing and curing human illness.
A surprising thing happened on the way to genetic engineering. Scientists began to uncover a revolutionary new view of how life really works and, in doing so, founded a new branch of science known as epigenetics. Epigenetics has shaken the foundations of biology and medicine to their core because it reveals that we are not victims, but masters of our genes.
For those who don’t know Greek, the prefix epi- means “over or above.” Students in high school and basic college biology courses are still learning about genetic control, which is the notion that genes primarily control the traits of life.
However, the new science of epigenetic control reveals that life is controlled by something above the genes. Exciting new insights concerning what that something above the genes is provides a gateway to understanding our proper role as cocreators of our reality.
Environmental signals acting through membrane switches control cell functions. It turns out that environmental signals, using the same mechanisms, also regulate gene activity. In the case of epigenetics, environmentally derived signals activate membrane switches that send secondary signals into the cell’s nucleus. Within the nucleus, these signals select gene blueprints and control the manufacture of specific proteins.
This is far different than the conventional belief that genes turn themselves on and off. Genes are not emergent entities, meaning they do not control their own activity. Genes are simply molecular blueprints. And blueprints are design drawings — they are not the contractors that actually construct the building.
Epigenetics functionally represents the mechanism by which the contractor selects appropriate gene blueprints and controls the construction and maintenance of the body. Genes do not control biology — they are used by biology.
The conventional belief that the genome represents read-only programs that cannot be influenced by the environment has now been proven to be one of those things we thought we knew, but we were, indeed, wrong. Epigenetic mechanisms actually modify the readout of the genetic code. The creative power of epigenetics is revealed in this fact: epigenetic mechanisms can edit the readout of a gene so as to create over 30,000 different variations of proteins from the same gene blueprint.
Depending on the nature of the environmental signals, the contractor characteristic of the epigenetic mechanism can modify a gene to produce either healthy or dysfunctional protein products.
In other words, a person can be born with healthy genes but through a distortion in epigenetic signaling, can develop a mutant condition such as cancer. On the positive side, the same epigenetic mechanism can enable individuals born with potentially debilitating mutations to create normal, healthy proteins and functions from their inherited defective genes.
Epigenetic mechanisms modify the readout of the genetic code, so that genes represent read-write programs, not read-only programs. This means that life experiences can actively redefine our genetic traits.
Genes are Not Destiny
This is a truly radical discovery. Where we once were certain that our genes marked our destiny, new-edge science now tells us nature is smarter than that. As organisms interact with the environment, their perceptions engage epigenetic mechanisms that fine-tune genetic expression in order to enhance the opportunities for survival.
This environmental influence is dramatically revealed in studies of identical twins. At birth and shortly thereafter, twin siblings express almost the same gene activity from their identical genomes. However, as they age, their personal individualized experiences and perceptions lead to activation of significantly different sets of genes.
News media delight in stories about the amazingly similar parallel lives led by twins separated at birth, to the extent that they may even end up with the same job or marry partners with the same name. Although these stories are perceived as generalizations, they are extremely rare exceptions, and, more importantly, those stories fail to consider the important period of prenatal behavioral programming that profoundly shapes the life and behavior of those twins when grown.
Take a moment to fully comprehend what new-edge biology is revealing.
Perceptions not only control behavior, they control gene activity as well. This revised version of science emphasizes the reality that we actively control our genetic expression moment by moment, throughout our lives. We are learning organisms that can incorporate life experiences into our genomes and pass them on to our offspring, who will then incorporate their life experiences into the genome to further human evolution.
Therefore, rather than perceiving ourselves as helpless victims of our genes, we must now accept and own the empowering truth that our perceptions and responses to life dynamically shape our biology and behavior.
Cell biologist Bruce Lipton is the author of Biology of Belief and Spontaneous Evolution. Visit www.brucelipton.com. See Lipton and Wayne Dyer in Seattle on Nov. 10. For details, visit www.hayhouse.com.