Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

New Research Reveals That Thoughts Affect Genes

  1. Nov 29, 2005 #1
    Is there any truth to this (are there actually scientific papers describing how thoughts affect genes) or is this a publicity stunt to promote his book?

    Liptons website
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I have heard of studies that show environmental influences can affect genes. It was claimed that there was evidence that subsequent generations were effected and developed differently after a famine had happened to their parents. I forget the name of the process, but it was likened to genes simply stitching on and off like a lightswitch- certain environmental triggers would cause some genes to become active and some dormant.
    I think there was a thread about it in the bio forum. I'll have a look and see if I can find it.
  4. Nov 29, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The cell membrane is the cell's equivalent of a brain? :rofl:

    I'd vote publicity stunt here. Not that there isn't a tiny hint of truth to what he's saying, but it's misrepresented, and hardly anything new. Of course the body responds to environmental factors all the time; we have to in order to maintain homeostasis. Once those factors are detected by the appropriate receptor-containing cells, signal transduction pathways lead to gene regulation so the cells respond appropriately.
  5. Nov 30, 2005 #4
    I saw a documentary (Horizon on BBC2) about that a few weeks ago.
    Here it is:

    Its called epigenetics, but they also used another term for it in the show.
    I dont remember them saying anything about thoughts affecting genes, even though it popped into my mind while watching the show. In the first part they were talking about the stress experienced by 9/11 families, which affected their offspring.
  6. Nov 30, 2005 #5
    I have no idea what this means, but it sounds interesting. Can you break it down a bit for someone who knows zilch about genes?
  7. Nov 30, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Oops...I thought that was the simple version. Gene expression is regulated by a lot of molecules within a cell, so when some external signal is received by an appropriate type of receptor on the cell, the receptor recruits in a variety of other molecules, and a cascade of molecular reactions and/or interactions occurs in the cytoplasm of the cell. Some of those molecules can get into the nucleus, and either directly act on chromosomes to change the rate of transcription (increase or decrease the expression of that gene) of some target genes. Which target genes are affected depends on special parts of the genetic sequence known as promoters, where the transcription factors "dock."

    Here's an illustration that shows a little of each level, from extracellular to nuclear. http://www.biocarta.com/pathfiles/h_p38mapkPathway.asp

    There's a whole bunch of examples of various cell signalling pathways at that site: http://www.biocarta.com/genes/CellSignaling.asp Some only show what happens in the cytoplasm, and don't really follow all the way through to the nucleus, but in some cases, you can put a few together to get the full picture. For example, this one gives a good idea of how complex the response can be:
    and if you note in that one all the way at the bottom right of the illustration, they show a molecule called NFkB (that's a kappa in there, but I don't know how to make one of those show up here). Then, on this other page, http://www.biocarta.com/pathfiles/h_nfkbPathway.asp you can get more of an explanation of how NFkB gets to the nucleus to affect gene expression (the illustration doesn't match the description very well though...read the description part).

    As you will get an idea very quickly, it's very complicated. People make careers out of studying just one pathway. But we definitely interact with our environment, so there must be ways for environmental signals to influence gene expression (note, I'm talking about gene expression...translating a gene to a protein...not the genome itself...that's what the original post talks about too, turning genes on or off...though it doesn't need to be all-or-none like that, it can be just increasing or decreasing expression).
  8. Nov 30, 2005 #7
    certinly genes affect thought (schizophrenia), so one might argue that thought can affect genes say like in the progression from ape to man or as described in the bell curve (smarter men and women have smarter babies).
  9. Nov 30, 2005 #8
    Still way over my head. I really, honestly, truly know zilch about genes.
  10. Nov 30, 2005 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The OP isn't talking about changing genes, just changing the expression of genes. Thoughts actually changing the genes themselves is much more far-fetched.

    Sorry. I thought the problem might have been that I gave too simple of an explanation at first, so offered more detail thinking that might clarify. I see I needed to back up a bit first. Let's see if I can give a quick primer on gene expression.

    Genes are bits of DNA code located within chromosomes (this much you probably knew already). The chromosome is actually not like a really long thread as it is sometimes depicted in illustrations, but is wrapped around molecules called histones (often illustrated as spools...it's a reasonable analogy). So, there will be DNA looped around these histones (just one loop per histone), and then all this is coiled up more, like a big, tangled phone cord. For any gene on that strand of DNA to be "read," enzymes and cofactors need to get to it and temporarily snip open the DNA and unwind it from those histones so it is relaxed enough for the transcriptional machinery (more enzymes) to move along and transcribe the DNA to RNA. Another set of enzymes translates RNA into proteins. Proteins are what are actually functional for doing "stuff" in the cell.

    When something signals a molecule in the cell of an environmental event (or an internal event as well), either by a direct action of that environmental stimulus on the cell, or by an indirect action of other cells acting as intermediates producing molecules that stimulate that cell, a series of events happens in the cell. One common thing that happens is some of these proteins are phosphorylated, and this phosporylation changes the shape of the protein, as well as it's energy, and allows it to function differently than before it was phosphorylated. Some of these molecules, once their function is changed, are able to get into the nucleus, where the DNA is stored. And there, they can act as transcription cofactors, which do things to help speed up transcription of DNA to RNA. Some work by opening up the DNA coiled around the histones, some by recruiting more of the transcriptional machinery, some by sitting down at special places on the DNA to say that section is the part that should be transcribed, etc.

    So, to the extent that thinking would involve synaptic transmission and release of neurotransmitters that would signal receptors on other neurons, there is the ability of thinking to trigger these signal transduction pathways and affect gene expression (picking and choosing which genes get used as a template to make proteins).
  11. Nov 30, 2005 #10
    I could understand that one much better. Thanks. The difference between changing the gene and changing the gene expression is alot more clear.

    Now, I saw a couple of mentions of stress being able to effect such a change in gene expression in your links. Does this literally mean what it sounds like? Emotional stress, as opposed to physical?
  12. Dec 19, 2005 #11
    In this paper Berkovich writes that DNA is a sort of barcode:

    Then Pim van Lommel writes about this:

    Not quite sure what this says about the powers of consciousness over genes.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2005
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?