Destiny Or Biology - Do Our Genes Govern Our Fate?
MAXIM Australia|August 2019

Do we make choices on the basis of our own conscious reflection? Are we personally responsible for our path in life? Are we the masters of our destiny? Or — do our genes make us do it? MAXIM’s resident Clinical Nutritionist, Brooke Benson Campbell (BHSC Nut Med) investigates…

Brooke Benson Campbell

Flash back to 1979. Two identical twins, Jim Springer and Jim Lewis, were reunited at age 39, after being separated as one-month olds and adopted by different families. They found, when comparing stories, that both had married and divorced a woman named Linda and remarried one named Betty. Both had interests in carpentry and mechanical drawing, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove pale-blue Chevrolets, found spelling difficult and had worked as part-time deputy sheriffs. Both also named their first son James Alan, and their pet dogs ‘Toy’. The basis of their identities seemed to be written in their genes.

Some of us may find this story disturbing. We like to think that we are the masters of our destiny, that we make choices on the basis of our own conscious reflection, that we are personally responsible for our path in life, that the future is ours to shape. And yet does this story prove our final decisions are already pre-programmed in genetic code? Is ‘my genes made me do it’ a viable get-out of-jail-free catch-cry?

Nearly 100 years ago, Freud wrote that ‘biology is destiny’ but when we consider the latest discoveries in the field of epigenetics and behavioural science, is this still accurate? In the nature versus nurture debate, who emerges triumphant? Let’s walk the genetic plank to answer the age-old question: do our genes govern our fate?

When we learned about genetics at school, it seemed fairly straightforward — for every feature there existed a gene: one for eye colour, one for hair texture, one for skin tone and so on. We inherited two copies of each gene (one from each parent) and the dominant allele would govern the resulting feature. It was a simple time, before Netflix, gluten-free bread, iPhones, exotic superfoods and Trump. Fast-forward a few decades: while eating our smashed avo on GF toast as we scroll through Instagram slurping on our Matcha Latte and embracing the presidential Twitter feed, we come across an advertisement for a salivary test that analyses gene ‘SNPs’ and promises to provide insight into unique personality traits, academic potential and lifespan — all for just $300. So, is this testing the modern equivalent of a crystal ball or a scientific exploration into the future? To determine the answer, we need to start by understanding the science of epigenetics.

Epigenetics (which means “over or above genetics”) is turning what we’ve long held true about biological destiny and genetic predisposition upside down. Previous studies, based largely on studies of twins, have suggested that many of our traits are more than 50% inherited and based in DNA — these include obedience to authority, vulnerability to stress and risk-taking behaviour. Another historical study of more than 800 sets of twins in the United States found that genetics were more influential in shaping key traits than a person’s home environment or surroundings. Although it remains true that our DNA — our genetic code — provides the blueprint for our physiological makeup, recent studies have discovered that there is something else that is controlling each and every gene — the epigenome.

While epigenomes do not change the DNA, they sit on top of each genome and direct the genes to turn on or off depending on environmental changes or biological triggers. In simple terms, if the DNA is the hardware, the epigenome is the software. Windows can be loaded onto a MAC — the computer chip stays in place (the same genome) but the software can be altered. This new discovery means that your inherited genetic heritage is not the primary determinant of your health, illness risk or longevity. In short, your genotype is a predisposition, not a prediction. It is this discovery that may be able to help explain certain scientific mysteries: why can one member of a pair of identical twins develop asthma when the other is fine, why autism strikes boys four times as often as girls, or why extreme changes in diet over a short period could lead to extreme changes in longevity.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MAXIM AUSTRALIAView All

“YOU JUST KILLED OSAMA BIN LADEN.”

As this month marks the 10th anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, former U.S. Navy SEAL ROBERT O’NEILL shares his incredible story about the night he fired the shots that killed the al-Qaeda leader. In this edited extract from his book The Operator, O’Neill tells us how eliminating the world’s most wanted terrorist, during the raid at his Abbottabad compound on May 1, 2011, all went down…

7 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

TRAINING FOR YOUR LIFE

MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY takes you on a personal journey on how fitness can be beneficial to your mental health…

4 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

NATALIE ROMANO

The successful pageant model, talented artist, rising actress and reigning Miss Bikini United States, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business, proves you can achieve absolutely anything with the right mindset...

7 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

— Eric Bana — THE DRY LOOK

Eric Bana may be the star of Robert Connolly’s mystery thriller The Dry, one of the biggest Australian box office hits in years, but it’s his suave wardrobe that’s the real scene stealer. To coincide with the film’s digital release, MAXIM sat down with AFI award-winning costume designer CAPPI IRELAND (above) to talk practical dressing, wheat farmers and Tom Ford sunglasses…

5 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

METEOR ON THE HORIZON

Bugatti’s radically-lightweight new fireball the Bolide...

5 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

The ARCHITECT'S ELIXIR

One-hundred and fifty collectors have the opportunity to acquire HENNESSY X.O decanters created by the great Frank Gehry...

3 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

MARATHON MAN Turning Right At The Garden Gate

Ultra-runner KAY BRETZ beat the race record of Australia’s Big Red Run by more than five hours and was awarded the Ultra Performance of the Year Award at the 24-hour world championships in France — but it took a significant change in mindset to do it. In this excerpt from his latest book, the elite athlete shares his amazing personal journey on overcoming physical, mental and professional challenges to achieve his success…

6 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

Introducing...TERVO ELINA

She is wild and free. She was born to travel. She is a model, influencer, media assistant, yoga teacher and personal trainer, but her goal is to work less and live more. She is a nomad with a strong need to experience and understand the world around us. And she prefers to do it all while wearing only her bikinis…

4 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

HOT PROPERTY

Sydney-based couple SCOTT & MINA O’NEILL retired at 28 after building a $20 million commercial property portfolio in just 10 years. They also set up their own business, to help thousands of others on the same road, and in this edited extract from their new book they share some insight on how you can do it, too…

8 mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021

CUISINE CANNABIS

Pot pesto, hemp-smoked soft cheese, craft cocktails, pizza with marijuananara sauce, weed flour and even Hashish Fudge. Yes, we take a look at the future of “high dining” and the talented chefs leaving their jobs at esteemed restaurants to produce cutting-edge cannabis concoctions…

10+ mins read
MAXIM Australia
May 2021
RELATED STORIES

Birds Struggling To Be Heard

Noise pollution in urban environments is drowning out birdsong, making it ever harder for birds to communicate.

2 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019

Revealed! Fall Leaf Secrets

Experts share why leaves change and predict when to hit the road for the colorful show.

3 mins read
Birds & Bloom
October/November 2018

You Can Beat Your Biology

Don’t let your genetic inheritance stifle your potential. Out-train your DNA to surpass your goals

3 mins read
Men's Health UK
July 2018

It's In Her DNA

CRISPR coinventor Jennifer Doudna talks about developing the gene editing tool that’s poised to change the world.

6 mins read
Fast Company
July/August 2017

The Seasons Of You

The calendar year follows the pattern of spring, summer, autumn, winter. But perhaps it shouldn’t…

7 mins read
BBC Earth
March - April 2021

मांसाहारी पौधों में मांस के चस्के का विकास

किसी पौधे में मांस का चस्का विकसित होना काफी अजीब लगता है। लेकिन हाल ही में मांसाहारी पौधों की तीन नज़दीकी प्रजातियों पर किए गए अध्ययन से पता चला है कि कुशल आनुवंशिक फेरबदल ने उन्हें प्रोटीन युक्त भोजन को प्राप्त करने और पचाने की क्षमता विकसित करने में मदद की है।

1 min read
Srote
July 2020

समय से पहले फूल खिला देते हैं भूखे भंवरे

फास्ट फूड हमारी भूख शांत करने में मदद करता है। ऐसा ही जुगाड़ भंवरे भी करते हैं।

1 min read
Srote
July 2020

Secrets Of The Ocean Worlds

If physics and chemistry are the same throughout the universe, is biology too?

9 mins read
All About Space
Issue 109

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese

When milk and microbes come together, there’s no doubt something wonderful happens. We asked a food scientist how a choreography of chemistry, biology, and psychology make cheese the ultimate food

5 mins read
BBC Earth
September - October 2020

Eating Contests: Is There A Limit To How Much You Can Consume In One Go?

This summer, the world record for the ‘sport’ of hotdog speed-eating was broken for the third time in five years. Are we approaching peak performance?

4 mins read
BBC Focus - Science & Technology
September 2020