Dear Mark: Latest in Gene Expression Research

One of my favorite topics, as many of you know, is epigenetics. It’s the burgeoning area of science that has blown apart the traditional nature-nurture dichotomy by examining the lifestyle-induced activation or dampening of genes. Epigenetics is increasingly filling in the gaps for understanding and monitoring degenerative disease risk. If you’re relatively new to MDA, take a look-see at my past articles (Gene Expression, What I Mean By “Reprogramming Your Genes”, Gene Expression: Location, Location, Location, Environmental Toxins and Gene Expression, Epigenetics and Depression) for a good Primal introduction to the concept. That said, when it comes to science there’s always more to read and know. New discoveries. Bold initiatives. Elegant correlations. Confirmed expectations and unexpected wrinkles. It’s what gets me up and roaring in the morning. Gladly, I’m not the only one….


I’m fascinated by the idea that all the signals I send my body through diet and exercise and other environmental conditions can, as you say, literally reprogram my genes. I’m always on the lookout now for research that shows how lifestyle factors are related to gene expression. Have you seen anything new in your studies?


Thanks to Stephanie for the shared enthusiasm and question for today. In the last several years, research into gene expression has garnered increasing attention and dollars. Popular media outlets like the Los Angeles Times, PBS and Time Magazine have devoted features to the field. I was even quoted (although quite out of context) in a recent LA Times piece on epigenetics. Foundations and government granting agencies have increasingly supported the expansion of epigenetic research, including a mapping of the human epigenome. (So far, Europe is ahead of the game.) Among the organizations doing amazing work in epigenetics is the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Much of recent epigenetic research delves into prenatal exposure and subsequent gene expression. Here are some highlights of the latest studies.

  • Researchers recently compared intestinal gene expression in breastfed and formula fed infants. The intestinal tract acts as a primary site for immune response, particularly in infants whose bodies must quickly learn to adapt to foreign foods outside the sterile womb environment. Glitches in intestinal (and related immune) development can cause food allergies, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Of particular note, gene expression that regulated cellular response to oxygen deprivation was more pronounced in breastfed babies, suggesting a possible cause for why breastfed infants have a lower SIDS risk.
  • Prenatal exposure to common environmental toxins can induce epigenetic changes that put a child at more risk for later cancer than post-birth exposure does. The study focused particularly on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are associated with oil and coal burning.

The take home message here is that you can literally reprogram your genes to live a long, healthy, productive, happy and energetic life. You can either sit idly by and end up a victim of poor gene expression, or you can take control of the signals you send your body (through diet, movement, stress management and many other lifestyle behaviors) and become the best version of you possible.

I’ll be sure to keep covering the latest epigenetic updates. Fascinating stuff to be sure. I hope these updates have offered some food for thought. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for the great comments and questions, and keep ‘em coming!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

38 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Latest in Gene Expression Research”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Cool stuff. I wonder what people in the past thought was causing hormonal changes, weight increases, etc. before epigenetics came along. If something gets any sort of response from your body at all, then it has generally affected gene expression.

  2. Hey Mark,

    Did you see the article in the May 17, 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated entitled, “Sports Genes”?

    They focus on “We are because we run” and much of the article revolves around the statement, “IN OUR GENES we are all distance runners.” On its face, it would seem to contradict what you write in PB, but would love to hear your take. The PB has become my filter.



      1. Thanks for the link. Don’t know how I missed that as I’m here pretty much every day. 🙂

        Interesting to see how quickly new theories can become CW (I guess you could you the CW for alternate theories) without the rigorous testing of hypotheses. Thank you for doing that. You lay it all out there and aren’t afraid to change your thinking based upon objective research data.

  3. I thoroughly enjoy reading the studies on epigenetics. Love to see a long list of studies all in one place. As I encourage people to buy the book and live a Primal lifestyle, this will be a great reference for anyone. Knowing you can reprogram your genes to live a long, vibrant, happy, healthy life by eating delicious foods is simply awesome.

    I am so far having success as I have gotten a few close people to take action. I am working on my family – but they are headed in the right direction. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this wonderful community.

  4. Mark,
    Great info as always.

    Any good research pointing to garlic, onion, broccoli cooked vs. raw?


  5. [quote]Researchers have identified food compounds that inhibit epigenetic dysfunction. Sulforaphane (broccoli), indole-3-carbinol (cruciferous vegetables) and organosulfur (garlic and onions) compounds are among the most protective food related substances discovered so far.[/qoute]

    It’s a good thing roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts, and cauliflower of any sort are some of my favorite vegetables! I love your posts on epigenetics, and learned a lot about epigenetics from a recent Nova special as well. It’s definitely a fascinating new scientific front.

    Thanks for including so much information about prenatal epigenetics too, it’s always great to see information relating to Primals of the female persuasion 🙂

  6. Wow! Super interesting stuff Mark. I look forward to reading your blog everyday. Love learning new things and work that grey matter between my ears!! Thanks 🙂

  7. Hello Mark

    Were you aware of a book called Virolution by Frank Ryan ?

    It outlines how viruses may play a role in epigenetics.

  8. Hey thanks for the info, Mark! I am glad to know that by telling my clients to eat more broccoli and cauliflower and relying less on the typical American diet, I am not only helping them to lose fat but to reprogram their genes for better health!


  9. Hey – this stuff has totally turned my life around. I’ve gone from being a skinny fat vegan to a totally alive being, because of this in less than three weeks. However, I have to seriously object to animal studies being used as proof for various things. Put bluntly a rabbit can eat a death cap mushroom that would kill Mark Sissons in no time. There’s no need to subject animal to pointless testing. Most of the science quoted on this site is crap.We are not mice. we do not react the same way to stuff. Quoting this s*** just discredits the otherwise excellent message of PB. Just my penny’s worth. JT

    1. Think of an animal study as step 3 or step 4 in a 12-step program. It’s not the final step, but a necessary step for the scientific method.

  10. Do we have to use the S word in a wholesome website post?
    Hear you with your thoughts and concerns 🙂

    1. My comment above was in reply to this statement, by johnnyboy: “We are not mice. we do not react the same way to stuff.”

      (Embarrassed emoticon here)

  11. Apologies for the s word – if I knew how to remove it would! This is what comes of posting after one glass of red wine and a cube of 85% chocolate too many. But my point remains the same. The thing I like about PB is it’s instinctiveness – not the science. Using animals is BAD science – they are the wrong model – nazi doctors knew this and were more than pleased to have an excuse to experiment on human subjects.

  12. Never heard of epigenetics until today. Very interesting and reasuring because of all the cauliflower and broccoli I eat.

  13. johnnyboy – get thee some scientific education!!! Animal models are excellent ways to elucidate the molecular mechanisms occurring at the cellular level. Examining the epigenetic changes that occur in response to a specific stimulus is a far cry from feeding a mouse a magic mushroom .

    The study of epigenetics (and it’s slightly older sister, microRNA), is truly in it’s infancy – we didn’t know this stuff existed 10 years ago. It’s a phenomenally complicated subject from the technology used to measure it to the statistics used to extract information from the gigabytes of data points generated from each experiment (that’s my field of study). Take the studies you read with a grain of salt, because they are very small pieces in a very large puzzle. They are tantalizing but in no way complete 🙂

  14. Mikki – ok i’m sure you’re right about the value of animals as models in some areas of scientific research. However, I don’t see why we need to spend millions of dollars and experiment on animals in order to find out that eating brocolli and onions and having a positive outlook is a good thing! People have known this for millenia. I don’t want to sound facetious but that’s what it looks like to me.

    1. 1. Scientific studies are largely motivated by money.

      2. Bottom line is that confirmation still needs to be made. (“Yeah, let’s send a person into outer space; he should be fine.”)

      3. Confirmation adds to the body of knowledge that may spur other important hypothesis.

  15. Wow – that one about children’s memory and learning affected by mother’s childhood environment is depressing. It means we haven’t yet begun to see how raising our children on TV will affect our country. The impact will be severe on their children…

  16. i LOVE epigentics and reading about it!!!! Sports Illustrated did a few articles in their last issue about epigenetics, gene expression and it’s relation to running, sprinting, and human evolution. very interesting reads. they also discuss how we went from short squatty hairy people to animal eaters and acquired the ability to sprint, got taller and leaner!!

  17. Be careful about reading those kinds of articles – they are full of speculation based on slim threads of evidence, turned into full-blown “theories” (I’d rather call them “stories”) for the sake of a pseudo-cutting-edge article that will appeal to their readers.

  18. Mark,
    how funny is this, I just wrote a blog post a day before this about exactly the same subject! Here (in finnish):

    We even used almost identical images hah!

    I’m a new reader here, so I didn’t know you were into epigenetics. Cool! This is one of my favourite subject. I’m hosting a Finnish evolutionary fitness/health/nutrition/etc blog (first one in Finland perhaps?). Primal lifestyle is still pretty unknown phenomenon in Finland. Not for long though. 😉

  19. Epigenetics means above the genes, which means we can reprogram ourselves. It seems that thoughts and perception of the world, the attitudes we hold on a regular basis, and the diets we consume should all play a part. If we were permanently programmed without any ability to change what we inherited from our parents, what type of world would this be? We all have the capacity for positive change and this would obviously be shown on a genetic level. Otherwise we’d be carbon copies of our pasts without any ability to create new lives and better experiences for ourselves.

  20. Good post. I study something more difficult on completely different blogs everyday. It can always be stimulating to learn content from different writers and follow somewhat one thing from their store. I’d choose to make use of some with the content material on my weblog whether or not you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link in your internet blog. Thanks for sharing.