On the Record
A conversation with Trygve Tollefsbol, author of Handbook of Epigenetics: The New Molecular and Medical Genetics (2010: Academic Press)
Tollefsbol (Biology) has written and edited eight textbooks so far exploring the hot field of epigenetics. A research review published by his lab in the journal Clinical Epigenetics earlier this year made headlines around the world by documenting evidence that eating an “epigenetics diet” based on foods such as soybeans, cauliflower, grapes, kale, and the spice turmeric can reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other diseases.
On the Record: What is epigenetics?
Tollefsbol: There are many different definitions out there, but probably the broadest one is that epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression—that is, which genes are activated and which are not—that do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Imagine you have a set of identical twins who share the exact same gene set. As they age, however, they become more and more different. The genes are the same, but the environmental factors are different. Maybe one stayed out in the sun at the beach a lot more and got more wrinkled skin. Because of their exposure to different environments and other factors, their genes are expressed differently as they age. That is epigenetics.
On the Record: Can these changes be passed on to your children?
Tollefsbol: It appears that they can. That’s a very hot area of research known as transgenerational epigenetics. We are becoming very interested in how epigenetic changes can be transferred from the mother to the fetus. Studies indicate that what the mother eats while she is pregnant can have a major influence on her children throughout their lives.
On the Record: So we are punished if our parents make the wrong choices?
Tollefsbol: In fact, epigenetics says the opposite. The genes you get from your mother and father aren’t going to doom you for the rest of your life—or set you up for the rest of your life. We are learning more and more that the choices you make during your life have a great effect on your body. Diet and exercise are very important. Compounds in the “epigenetics diet” foods can, at the very least, help us to lead healthier lives and help prevent potentially debilitating diseases. Studies indicate that the earlier you start, the better, but these behaviors are beneficial to everybody.
Learn more about epigenetics in the feature "Express Yourself," from UAB Magazine.
“Words are not the only way to have thoughts.”
Autism advocate, animal management expert, and noted author Temple Grandin, Ph.D., spoke to UAB’s freshman class at the Alys Stephens Center on its first day on campus in August. Grandin’s bestselling memoir, Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, is UAB’s 2011 Discussion Book. Members of the class of 2015 will talk about the book and increase their awareness of autism spectrum disorders in small group discussions throughout the school year.
Fairy Tales and Medicine
UAB medical student Valerie Gribben believes in the power of science—and words. As a teenager, she wrote a novella called Fairytale that was published by Montgomery’s NewSouth Books. She completed a follow-up, The Emperor’s Realm, while earning her undergraduate degree in English from UAB and starting a volunteer group called Healing Words, whose members read to patients in hospitals and nursing homes. She wrote a final book, The Three Crowns, while she was in her first years of medical school. This summer, NewSouth published Gribben’s books in one volume, The Fairytale Trilogy. She added another high-profile writing assignment in June, when her essay, “Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work,” was published in the New York Times. Read that piece at valeriegribben.com.
Found in Translation
In this companion to their intermediate Spanish textbook, Nexos, Sheri Spaine Long (Foreign Languages and Literatures) and her co-writers deliver a follow-up for students ready to advance beyond an introductory level. Alianzas is a one-semester program that emphasizes real-world communication skills and focuses on helping students prepare to explore opportunities in international education, business, internships, and more.