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Epigenetics and the Development of a Child


Epigenetics is an important subject that studies the way cells regulate gene activities. As individuals develop, the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that occupies their genes governs the expression by gathering chemical symbols(a process known as epigenome). However, the gene of a child, by means of heredity gives information concerning the growth of the child. In essence, the phenotype and genotype of children explain the demonstrations of their genes.

This article explains the role of epigenetics in children’s development.

Table of Contents

What is a Gene?

A Brief Description of DNA and RNA

What is Epigenetics?

Genes and Environment

How Epigenetic Transformation Affect the Development of Children

What is a Gene?

What is a Gene?

A gene in biology refers to a rudimentary segment of heredity and a classification of nucleotides in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which encodes the mixture of a gene product (protein or RNA). Genes basically consist of deoxyribonucleic acid and they are transferred from mothers and fathers to their offspring. They are also one of the major sources that define the features of offspring.  

Encoding in this context refers to the ability of a gene to produce a substance or a behavior. Hence, a gene has the capability of encoding proteins (which regulates the function of a cell). The expression of numerous genes in a cell defines what that cell is able to do while the gene holds the information that the DNA carries.

A Brief Description of DNA and RNA

Description of DNA and RNA

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a genetic substance, present in the cells of living organisms. It is one of the main macromolecules that contribute to the essentiality and performance of humans.  Majorly, DNA is positioned in the nucleus of living organisms, whereas, few of it is seen in the mitochondria.

Chromosomes are threadlike structures that organize the DNA. However, a whole set of chromosomes present in a cell of a living organism is a genome. The genome of humans consists of about 3,000,000,000 base duos of deoxyribonucleic acid which are assembled into forty-six chromosomes.

Ribonucleic Acid (RNA)

Ribonucleic acid ( available in the cells of living organisms) have similar features with DNA but its strand is single. However, its main function in some organisms is to disseminate information and orders from deoxyribonucleic acid and convert them into proteins. DNA cannot produce protein on its own because it cannot leave the nucleus.

What is Epigenetics?

The word ‘epi’ originates from Greek, and it means, ‘outside of, over, and around.’  Epigenetics is a biological topic that studies the way a person’s behavior and environment affects the function of his gene by changing the way it works. In essence, it studies those alterations that influence the action and demonstration of genes.  

Epigenetics does not change the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) present in genes, but they define hereditary changes in an individual’s phenotype.

Specifically, an individual’s environmental conditions like nourishment, routine, conduct, and pressure can have an effect on his health and that of his offspring as a result of gene sensitivity. Research explains that genetic attributes can flow from generation to generation because the conditions of parents can reverse the genes present in their eggs or fetuses and convert the genetic code of their next generation.

For example, smoking or a bad diet can influence genes by giving a person’s children, grandchildren, and so on, the chances for illnesses and lack of longevity.

Epigenetic Transformation

According to Dr Pamela Peeke, an assistant professor of medicine, University of Maryland;

“Genes have the ability to control the destiny of individuals.” She used a particular food experiment carried out on a pregnant mouse (who gave birth to a brown mouse after eating a particular meal) to illustrate that what living organisms eat is what they produce. In essence, the things we eat or do affect our gene expressions.

Similarly, our actions alters the expressions of our genes which become obvious through the transformation of our mind and body. Using a gun as an example, she said, “While heredities load the gun, epigenetics draw/pull the trigger.”    

Pamela Peeke. (2014).

Genes and Environment

Majorly, there are 3 classifications that explain how the relations between environment and genes generate developing routes alterations that influence a child’s wellbeing.

The First Classification

This denotes that genes and environment have a strong connection that can upturn a child’s chance of choosing, changing and producing several occurrences. For instance, children who have inhibitions (like feeling nervous to express themselves) have the inclination to select environments that will not challenge their social life.

The Second Classification

This means that the communication between genes and the environment can be bidirectional (operating in two directions). For instance, in some cases, DNA differences (genetic variation) are only obvious in the incidence of particular environmental circumstances. Conversely, a child’s genotype may determine how his gene and environment interact.

The Third Classification

This explains that signs from the environment can spot DNA and can sometimes change the dictation and demonstration of genes. For instance, research explains that prenatal pressure and the dopamine receptor gene of a mother are likely to cause some children’s behavioral conditions. 

A study also illustrates that when the rearing arrives early, the condition of a mother can interrelate with the serotonin transporting gene. Such interrelation, however, can have an effect on hormones that regulate pressure (stress hormones).

How Epigenetic Transformation Affect the Development of Children

One frequent epigenetic alteration is the adding of methyl (alkyl that originates from methane) to the chromatin construction that surrounds the gene. Still, scientists are yet to understand how life experiences increase or reduce methylation.  

Lately, numerous statistics on epigenetics are emerging and they allow people to comprehend the way developing routes become adaptable or not. However, occurrences and environmental contacts can have powerful effects on genes to amplify or decrease their demonstrations. Also, these occurrences can determine the production of a gene with relativity to an environment. As a result, there can be several regulations in a child’s social, mental, and physical condition.

For instance, as a child develops, his growing brain is most susceptible to environmental experiences. However, parents and caregivers must support children’s social development by paying attention to them and watching them sensitively. Specifically, children may react in different ways to the experiences (hostile or cherishing) they encounter because of the difference in epigenetic exposure.

As a child builds his retention and learning skills, distinctive epigenetic alterations happen in the cells of his or her brain. In essence, the child’s brain and his environment interact and produce either positive or negative epigenetic changes. Thus, several ways that epigenetic changes affect the development of children are;

Through an Environment

The genes that a child inherits from his or her parent does not totally determine his growth and development. This means that the child’s imminent progress can change. Without a doubt, people’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) dissimilarity impacts how genes express themselves and function after encoding proteins.

Similarly, the environment where a child grows before his birth or after can deliver prevailing capabilities which change several genes chemically. In effect, this change describes when and how the genes are expressed. Therefore, an environment can influence a child’s behavior just as hereditary elements can.

Through Experiences

The brain and the body both have a sound ability to react and respond to experiences. Research carried out by Harvard University explains that;

“The forces of a child’s experience through his environment dive into the body and communicate with his genes to generate adjustments or interruptions that are psychological. In effect, these forces can exercise the power to regulate the child’s social, physical, and emotional wellbeing till his adulthood.”

Moreover, the experiences (positive or negative) of children determines their brain regulation and development.

Negative or Harmful

Negative encounters by fetuses, babies and, children can generate modifications in their brains physically and chemically. However, these modifications can lead to lifetime shortcomings.

For instance, a pregnant woman who does not expose herself to healthy nutrition is indirectly causing harm to her child.  Also, pregnant women who take alcohol, smoke cigarettes or tobacco infect their babies’ brains with toxic chemicals that can affect their behavior.

Specifically, negative experiences like these have the capability of influencing organs that can generate bad physical, social, emotional, and cognitive output. 

Positive or Helpful

Encounters that are positive (like relationships that are supportive and environments that provide good learning chances) can also affect a child’s epigenome. These encounters register an exclusive temporary or permanent epigenetic indication on the child’s genes.

For example, a child who develops in an environment where he is experiencing social, physical, and emotional support have a higher chance of developing positive epigenetic changes.


Epigenetics simply defines the interaction between genes and the environment. However, this interaction can have a positive or negative influence on a child’s cognition, health, and behavior. In effect, as children develop, mentally and physically, their response to an environment can alternate the expression of their genes.