Epigenetics: David Shenk at TEDxLakeGeneva

Epigenetics: David Shenk at TEDxLakeGeneva


Translator: Marina Recio
Reviewer: Allam Zedan I am middle-aged, as you can see. What that means is that, day by day, I become
a lot more reliant and trusting of machines like this than I am of this machine. Like some of you, I suspect,
I’m increasingly aware of the frailties
of the human body and brain. And I look around at this
technological revolution taking place. And I kind of want to apply this
same ingenuity to the human body to upgrade myself. After all, if we’ve gone from this to this in my lifetime, why can’t we go from this to this? Why can’t I, why can’t we all be
stronger, smarter, faster, longer lasting? We’ve all seen great new inventions
that are aimed at doing just that; upgrading the human body. High-tech replacements
for our hands and arms, our knees and legs, our eyes and ears, even our brain. Google has an ambition to connect
the brain directly to the internet; no typing or speaking required. Think about that for a second,
kind of creepy, kind of cool? I’m sure it will happen
if Google is going after it. The main reason that we fantasize about
these biological, these bionic upgrades is that our own biological upgrades
happen so infrequently, at least that’s what
we were told in school, right? Here’s what we were taught: Once upon a time we evolved from this to this, to this, to this, to this. And now, we are who we are. This is Darwin’s famous natural selection. It is thought to be the one and only, very slow upgrade mechanism that we have. And what we were told was,
we’re stuck in place we’ll stay just like this until
a random genetic mutation happens and spreads throughout the entire species. For most of the grand time scale
of human existence, we stay the same. That’s what we were taught. But that turns out not to be the case. If you look closely at science
from the last few decades, a very different lesson emerges. Humans are self-upgradeable. We are designed to upgrade on our own. Not just every few hundred thousand
years, but all the time. We have a genetic operating system whose function it is to constantly adapt
to external conditions and needs. Imagine if Apple held an event and said, here’s your new iPhone 6 and you’re really
gonna want to buy this one because you’ll never have to buy
another one. Next year this iPhone 6
will turn into an iPhone 7. The year after that,
it will turn into an iPhone 8, not just the software, the hardware itself
will transform right in your hand and into what you need it to be. So, the screen will become bigger
or smaller depending on what you need, the glass will become more flexible
or more rigid depending on what you need, the case will become harder or softer
or more grippy or smoother depending on what you need. That’s what human beings do. We constantly adapt to our external conditions and needs
using not one, but four different biological upgrade mechanisms. We’ve already talked about
natural selection, it’s the slowest by far, it’s the only one we don’t get to see
in our own lifetime. So let’s talk about the other three. First upgrade mechanism is homeostasis. It’s a biochemical system that allows the body to adapt constantly, second to second,
minute to minute, hour to hour, to environmental changes. What’s an example of homeostasis? I am in my warm New York City apartment, I decide to go outside, it’s freezing cold, I’m in the middle of a freezing cold
blizzard all of a sudden. Immediately, my hypothalamus sends signals to constrict the blood vessels
close to my skin, it activates my skeletal muscles to shiver
and generate warmth, the hair on my skin raises up
to trap warm air, glands secrete adrenaline and thyroxine
to increase my metabolic rate. I’m not even aware of it,
but my body has just immediately self-adjusted to a new environment, it is instantly upgraded
to deal with the cold. That’s homeostasis,
upgrade mechanism number one. So I’m outside and I’m actually on my way to
my son’s school a few blocks away, he’s in the fifth grade
and he’s learning to play the violin, and today I get to hear
his first orchestra concert. (Music) You do too. (Music continues) I think if my fifth grade orchestra
had been anywhere near that hip, my life would have gone
in a completely different direction. So what’s going on with my son
as he is learning to play the violin? He is experiencing and enjoying
upgrade mechanism number two: neuroplasticity. You’ve all heard of neuroplasticity;
it’s the brain’s way of becoming smarter by building connections between neurons and strengthening those connections. And even though neurons
are obviously very, very small, all these connections
actually physically change the shape of your brain. I can’t emphasize this enough, this involves every single skill
you have ever learned or will ever learn, and we know it from peer-reviewed science. Using MRI scans, neuroscientists
have seen the subtle physical changes in the brains of musicians
learning a new instrument, cab drivers learning
the geography of a different city, meditation practitioners training
their brain in a new way and all sorts of athletes. The brain is built to adapt to your needs, that’s what it’s designed to do, and that’s upgrade mechanism number two. So, we’ve got a problem here,
what about this interval? We seem to have every time scale covered, we’ve got seconds, minutes, hours, all the way up to millions and
millions of years covered, all these three mechanisms
are working so well together, but what about this interval here? Generation to generation. This is where the story
gets a little strange and, to me, very interesting, because for a long time,
scientists were quite convinced there was no biological mechanism
for adaptation from generation to generation. We have culture, we have education,
we have events like this, these things can do a tremendous amount
in that time period, but not these three biological mechanisms;
natural selection is way too slow, you can have a random genetic mutation but you can’t have it spread that quickly
through the human species. Neuroplasticity also doesn’t apply here, my son can change his brain dramatically
in his lifetime, but he can’t change the brain
of his future son or grandson. Or can he? Because it turns out that there is
a very peculiar biological mechanism that fits right in this interval
of generation to generation. It’s called epigenetic inheritance. Epigenetic inheritance, by the way,
was just discovered, so if you haven’t heard of it,
forgive yourself, it’s a brand new discovery. We’ve known of epigenetics,
but epigenetic inheritance is really brand new to science. And what is it? It is the understanding
that anything in our lives, anything we eat, breathe,
our moods, behaviors and so forth, affects our genes and that some
of those effects on the genes can actually get passed down
to our children and grandchildren. Now, this is going to
sound nuts to you guys because we’re all raised
to think about genes in a certain way, which is that you can’t change your genes. And that’s true,
you can’t change your genes. The most fundamental thing about DNA
is that it’s stable. 50% of your DNA is a perfect replica
from your mother, the other 50% is a perfect replica
from your father, but DNA comes wrapped up
in a protective package of proteins called the epigenome. “Epi” is Latin for “outside,”
so epigenome means outside the genome. Here’s an illustration
of what the epigenome looks like at a magnification of about 1 million. You can see the double helix strands
of DNA wrapped around the epigenetic proteins. Now, these proteins not only protect DNA, they also influence gene expression, which means they tell genes
when to turn on and off. So we’ve known for a long time
that our lifestyle can influence our genes through epigenetics, what scientists just discovered through many studies now
in plants and animals is that some of those effects
can get passed down to our children. And very recently we’ve seen some really amazing population studies
in humans that suggest that the exact same thing
is going on in us. Now, admittedly, we do not have
the perfect examples yet in human beings. Why is that? We can’t manipulate
human breeding, we can’t clone humans, we can’t do with humans
what we would ordinarily need to do to do these studies, but the scientists who study this
are quite convinced that epigenetic inheritance
is real and ubiquitous. So that brings us back
to this marvelous chart. Now it’s complete,
we see our four upgrade mechanisms, each perfectly complementing one another and covering the entire time scale
of existence. And, by the way, these ideas are not mine. I, of course, am learning them
from scientists. Here are two scientists
I wanted to give credit to and thanks to for doing an early version of this
time scale chart and putting it all together. Why am I so obsessed with this chart, and I keep coming back to it? It’s just a dry list of words, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an illustration that better demonstrates
how humans are built for adaptivity. We are designed to upgrade on our own,
we are self-upgradeable, we are designed to change
from moment to moment, from month to month, and year to year, from generation to generation,
and over hundreds of thousands and millions of years. We don’t just inherit our biology, we also impact our biology. That’s an amazing opportunity, and also a very serious burden. So what can human beings
transform themselves into? It’s easy for me to stand up here and obsess about my own
middle-aged problems, my creaky bones, and fantasize about
some new high-tech solution, and we know those solutions will come. But then I think about this chart,
and I think about my son and how he’s gonna transform himself over the course of his life, and some of those changes
will get passed on to his children and to their children. And thinking about that,
I am filled with a hope and a sense of awe
for this very, very old technology inside each one of us. Thank you so much. (Applause)

12 thoughts on “Epigenetics: David Shenk at TEDxLakeGeneva”

  1. Insightful talk from an accomplished author who writes equally well about technology and the human body. Shenk argues that upgrading the human body was once thought to be very slow—beyond the time scale of a single human—but in fact individual humans constantly adapt to the local environment. This happens because of three biological upgrade mechanisms: Homeostasis, Neuroplasticity, and Epigenetic Inheritance.  These all complement Natural Selection, but on a human time scale, rather than a species time scale. "You can't change your genes: the most fundamental thing about DNA is that it's stable," Shenk says. He then goes on to explain the epigenome.  Big take away: being middle aged is not the end, it's the middle.

  2. … David spreads completely false idea, seems like David Shenk has no idea about "Genetic loads" /mutation loads and Neutral theory, that people via genetic transmit at least 2 bad mutations that next generation would carry…. Human genome has been dramatically shorted (women from 4'000 genes to 1'500 and men from 1'500 to 78 coding genes)… Human brain gets smaller from 1'500 gr to 1'320gr… We are in big degradation, regardless of technological progress our physicality gradate from genetic point of view on big scale picture…. David Shenk need to do some real study in latest anthropology, and works like James F. Crow (president of Genetics Society of America and Human genetics) and then spread that nonsense out of Tedx….

  3. AMAZING VIDEO SIR!! I need a biological upgrade because I want health and fertility and lots of attention from men. Good Evening, is it even possible that you and your team can use EPIGENETICS-GENE THERAPY on me to see if  I have "Pear Shape" or the Gonadal Body type genes? For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Gonadal Body type is a  pear-shaped female, with curvy rear and slender upper body. My birthday is coming up this April and I want a new body. I've always wanted to be shaped like an Amazon: thick thighs, big booty and tiny waistline, slender arms. I want the universal feminine physique: The classic Hip To Waist ratio of Fertility. I want the body of an Advanced Estrogenic Feminine Fertility Goddess. My physical Somatotype is a Female Mesomorph (Adrenal- Apple Body) with broad shoulders and thick shoulder blades, included is a bloated hard belly with straight hips. During puberty, I had extreme stress and negativity. I grew up in a harsh environment where male energy was necessary for survival. lack of protective male force in my life, even into my late 20's, I often had to use force and aggression to defend myself in a threatening less emotional stable environment. I believe this tricked my brain into secreting those muscle building hormones only and suppressing Estrogen and Oxytocin those nurturing, cuddly feminine hormones. Simply observing and reacting to my environment vs. living in the moment  at peace. Consequently my Estrogen was suppressed with the physiological stress responses-> Cortisol and Adrenaline, which have put my womanly body  to a complete halt. Don't get me wrong, my body managed to make enough Estrogen for Boobs but not enough to distribute to the Booty and Hips. Periodically, throughout the month, I have these mini spikes in the "Good" Estrogen. However, depending on my diet and stress levels, my Butt increases in volume but STILL its too firm and hard like a guy's ass. I want my Ass Soft, Jiggly and Teardropped NOT firm and square. In a nutshell, I strongly desire a slender upper body, narrow waistline, curvier hips and soft glutes.Those of you who have advice or comments please, gladly share with me. Love you all . Happy New Year!!

  4. Who needs all of this effing crap. I'm 70,in perfect health,  live in a 34 year old motorhome and every day is a new, exciting adventure.This guy is the epitome of some nasty stereotyping of a religious minority.

  5. So what hope is there for the generation that will come after the one that is overweight, highly stressed, often angry and lacking in sleep? the generation that eats too much sugar and fat, and not enough of essential nutrients like vitamin D? But then again, perhaps this generation is the product of the one that endured the horror and privation of WWII

  6. THIS. IS. AWESOME. Connecting the dots between homeostatis, neuroplasticity, epigenetics and natural selection is a holy grail of understanding. It can inform the new medicine of the 21st century and beyond. Kudos!!

  7. Deathly Avoid any chip implant! They will destroy us. This guy has no idea of evolution. You think we are so intelligent as to modify evolution? Of course we evolve, but it's very, very subtle. A lot more consensus needed here.

    What is the lesson??? Eat well,and be a good parent. SHOCKING 🙂

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