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Epigenetics: How Environment Changes Your Biology

An expert in epigenetics explains the deep chemistry of life.
Epigenetics: How Environment Changes Your Biology is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 39.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fascinating topic; muddled collection of lectures I was hoping to (a) understand epigenetics better and (b) get up to date with the latest information in that field. I found the style of the presenter very difficult - there are many Great Courses with lecturers who are deeply engaged and very enthusiastic about their subject, but this presenter was so over-the-top with excitement that it came across as fake instead. I liked having some visuals for the internals of cells, but other than an overlay crediting the source, there wasn't much that was labeled to indicate what we were looking at. I had watched earlier courses about DNA and genetics, and without that background, it would have been hard to follow the information in this course. There didn't appear to be any structure or organization to the way the first few lectures were presented which made fitting the new information in to what I already knew was harder than I expected. I figured I'd keep going in the hope that things became less of a struggle but then the lectures launched into recommendations about eating and lifestyle etc. with no specific evidence cited to link that to epigenetics. The presenter stated that there were links but never elaborated to specify them. At that point I'd had enough and decided this course was not for me. I'm looking for information about epigenetics, not lifestyle advice and speculation.
Date published: 2024-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating but Complicated / Good Lecturer Frances Crick’s “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology” states that genetic information flows in one direction only, from genes to proteins, or genotype to phenotype. This indicates Lamarckism, the inheritance of acquired characteristics, e.g., the blacksmith’s muscles, acquired over a lifetime of pounding, can be passed on to his offspring, is not viable as evolutionary biologists have told us. Moreover, a variant of Lamarckism, Lysenkoism, where the Soviet peasant agronomist Lysenko “demonstrated” that placing plants in a cold medium would make their offspring sprout in all kinds of seasons, was always faulted for retarding Soviet agriculture and Soviet genetics by a generation. And then along comes the relatively recent phenomenon of epigenetics which superficially at least, seems to turn the above notions on their head. Thus, when Wondrium announced a new course on epigenetics, this non-scientist was eager to see what ramifications epigenetics has effected. The 12 lectures are given by Dr. Mykura, who is both an MD and a PhD researcher. Her lecture style is earnest and enthusiastic and she speaks (at least for me) with an appealing English accent. For the person who thought that biology, particularly molecular biology, was sufficiently complicated, epigenetics with its mutual and two-way interplay of thousands of genes and proteins has magnified that complexity. We hear of DNA methylation and histone modification. Proteins can circle back to DNA and turn some genes on and some genes off (seemingly digital changes) and in an overall sense affect gene expression (in an anolog sense). This overall complexity Dr. Mykura calls the “epigenetic jungle.” She states that: “epigenetics is….part of the system that feeds information back to your DNA via your incredible, vast host of epigenetic proteins.” While our genome is essentially fixed over our lifetime, we learn that our “epigenome” changes day by day. The lectures can be very detailed in their discussion of the underlying molecular biology and genetics where one can lost in the complexity. My one issue is that I would have preferred a bit more attention was placed on the “big issue” implications of epigenetics. She does mention that epigenetics offers the positive hope that our environment and our experience need not make us totally vulnerable to a sort of genetic determinism. In fact, it seems to me that epigenetics blurs the distinction between “nature” and “nurture” insofar as the terms proxy for genes and environment. But what about Lamarckism? She’ll go only as far as to say that certain epigenetic effects “may open the door for Lamarckism.” Another source has said that, with regard to animals, it’s very unlikely that inherited epigenetic marks on the genome can last for more than a generation or two “before they’re washed away.” But we understand from these lectures that “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” is much more viable in plants. Does that resurrect Lysenkoism? I understand that Russian nationalists have said that the advent of epigenetics has vindicated Lysenko. I guess I’d like to know how far epigenetics will alter our previously conceived notions of biology and evolution.
Date published: 2024-03-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing This course had some good content but overall it was a disappointment. Much of the lectures were delivered in an unvarying "talking head" format with a very plain background -- it was hard to stay focused. There were a few embedded videos and charts but they were mostly unexplained and it was sometimes hard to figure out exactly what they were supposed to convey and their relevance to the points being made. The same embedded videos appeared in many of the lectures, again for no particular reason except to add some visual break from the talking head.
Date published: 2024-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning Wow! Amazing how much this field has progressed since I graduated from Med School. Our understanding of genetics has been entirely upended by the field of epigenetics. The lecturer does an excellent job of presenting the material. She invokes various diseases to illustrate some of the points and while I understand these diseases reflexively, you don't have to be a physician to get it...she explains the fundamentals of the diseases in easy-to-understand terms.
Date published: 2024-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Epigenetics I am now on episode six - halfway through the course! I have been looking for a clear explanation of epigenetics and here it is.
Date published: 2023-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative - how wonderfully complicated our world is
Date published: 2023-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Light on Old Ideas This is one of the most information-dense courses I have watch from TTC. My formal education is in Geology and Philosophy of Science, and I'm always fascinated by the ways in which old ideas (such as Lamarckism) be infused with new information (from fields such as epigenetics) to give us a more profound understanding of reality. I loved this course, but I think I will have to watch it a few more times to fully comprehend it.
Date published: 2023-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good introduction and overview of Epigenetics Complicated topic that was done enthusiastically and with great graphics. Its not easy to follow sometimes due to the details but it is effective in giving one a sense of the complexity of microbiology and the playing field (interaction) between our experience and the world (our environment).
Date published: 2023-11-11
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Overview

Taught by physician-scientist Dr. Charlotte Mykura, this course introduces the science of epigenetics, which goes together with genetics to explain physiology, heritability, disease, and every other aspect of living cells. You learn how the double helix of DNA is transformed by a host of molecules that constitute the epigenome and which implement the genetic code by switching genes on and off.

About

Charlotte Mykura

Within each one of our cells, we hold a beautiful epigenetic jungle surrounding our DNA that manipulates our genetic code.

INSTITUTION

North Bristol NHS Trust

Dr. Charlotte Mykura is a foundation doctor with the North Bristol NHS Trust. She earned her MD at Swansea University and her PhD in Epigenetics at Imperial College London, where she focused on protein complexes that fold, organize, and repair DNA. She is also a science communicator who has explored genetics, epigenetics, and evolution with audiences at such venues as the ZSL London Zoo and London’s Science Museum. Additionally, she has participated in several festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Cheltenham Science Festival.

By This Expert

Epigenetics: How Environment Changes Your Biology
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Epigenetics: How Environment Changes Your Biology

Trailer

Living DNA and the Epigenetic Universe

01: Living DNA and the Epigenetic Universe

DNA may get all the credit, but the behind-the-scenes manipulator of genetic information, making DNA perform the myriad functions of life, is epigenetics. Dr. Mykura introduces this exciting field, which is rewriting our understanding of gene expression, and how our behavior and the environment can influence traits that were previously thought to be hardwired into our genetic code.

34 min
How Your Epigenetic Code Changes

02: How Your Epigenetic Code Changes

Delve into the molecular machinery of the epigenetic code, that living jungle which controls our DNA. See how the central dogma of cell biology, that DNA makes RNA makes proteins, is only possible due to epigenetic processes. Also, see how epigenetic factors create a system of inheritance that is entirely separate from—but intimately involved with—our genomes.

32 min
What You Eat and the Epigenetics of Your Gut

03: What You Eat and the Epigenetics of Your Gut

Explore the epigenetics of food and how our diet can affect our DNA. A famous example is the Dutch famine at the end of World War II, which left a legacy of health problems not just among the survivors, but also in their yet-to-be-conceived descendants—an outcome that defied traditional genetics. Discover how epigenetics explains this phenomenon, as well as trends such as today’s obesity epidemic.

28 min
Can We Slow the Epigenetics of Aging?

04: Can We Slow the Epigenetics of Aging?

Epigenetics plays a key role in aging, giving humans long lives compared to other mammals, but also setting a limit on longevity. This raises the question: Can we use our knowledge of epigenetics to stop aging, or at least slow it down? Focus on an enzyme called telomerase, which in theory can restore cells to youth, but at a terrible cost. In this light, consider the advantages of aging.

29 min
Brain Epigenetics, Stress, and Memory

05: Brain Epigenetics, Stress, and Memory

The brain is the most complex structure that we know, able to produce an infinite variety of behaviors and store prodigious amounts of information. Learn how epigenetics governs the genes that are expressed within the brain. Then, look at brain pathologies such as schizophrenia that are partly due to epigenetic effects. Also, evaluate the impact of drug use on brain development.

31 min
The Heart and Lungs, Epigenetics, and Exercise

06: The Heart and Lungs, Epigenetics, and Exercise

See how epigenetic changes due to diet and cigarettes can affect the heart and lungs. For example, lung cancer was once considered a disease of genetic processes, but it is now known to involve many epigenetic mutations that disrupt the on/off state of specific genes. Then study a more positive phenomenon: how the epigenetic alterations from regular exercise can have long-term health benefits.

31 min
Cancer Epigenetics versus Your DNA Repair

07: Cancer Epigenetics versus Your DNA Repair

Follow the ongoing epigenetic battle taking place in all of us. It pits naturally occurring or environmentally induced cellular damage, which could lead to cancer, against the powerful mechanisms of DNA repair. Compare the chromosomes in a healthy cell versus a cancerous cell. Also, look at different cancer triggers, including ultraviolet light and the body’s hormonal and microbial environments.

29 min
Disease-Fighting Epigenetics and Immunity

08: Disease-Fighting Epigenetics and Immunity

The body’s immune system incorporates a huge amount of epigenetic complexity. Learn how this works in the two types of immunity: innate and adaptive. Innate immunity is inherited and evolutionarily very ancient, while adaptive immunity can respond to pathogens that may have evolved mere hours ago. Probe the danger of immune cells attacking the body’s own cells in autoimmune diseases.

30 min
Female and Male? The Epigenetics of X and Y

09: Female and Male? The Epigenetics of X and Y

Why are there two sexes, and what does epigenetics have to do with it? Zero in on the X and Y chromosomes, following events that cause a fertilized egg with two Xs to develop ovaries, while an embryo with an X and a Y develops testes. Investigate why the Y chromosome has a minimal number of genes and whether it will eventually disappear from the sexual reproduction of our species.

32 min
Human Life Begins with Epigenetics

10: Human Life Begins with Epigenetics

Rewind the process of embryogenesis to individual egg and sperm cells. Although their epigenetic features are largely wiped clean, they still must orchestrate the complex development of an embryo to produce a baby. Study the steps needed to get to a fertilized egg and the even more involved epigenetic processes as the embryo differentiates. Also, pinpoint steps where embryogenesis can go wrong.

31 min
Inheriting Epigenetics in Plants—and People?

11: Inheriting Epigenetics in Plants—and People?

Does epigenetics mean that 19th-century French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was right about the inheritance of acquired characteristics? Learn that this phenomenon, called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, is difficult to prove, especially in humans. In the search for evidence, evaluate a prominent study of isolated human populations. Then, see that plants shed intriguing light on this question.

32 min
The Evolution of Epigenetics and Our Future

12: The Evolution of Epigenetics and Our Future

Turn back the clock to the era before DNA, when RNA may have dominated life processes, playing both genetic and epigenetic roles. Focus on the epigenetics taking place in bacteria, as well as in older, single-celled organisms called archaea. Go deeper into the diverse epigenetic activity in plants. Finish the course by looking ahead at the many promising lines of research in epigenetics.

33 min