Introducing our Guest Legacy Leader Dr. Jeffery Craig:
Dr. Jeff Craig is a researcher at work and in the garden. In his early career, he was locked inside a dark room for a few years studying human chromosomes. Seven years ago he saw the light and started working with real humans, which made his life much more interesting. His work now focuses on how knowledge of the epigenetic musicians that play the symphony of life on our genes can help explain how the environment can affect our risk for chronic illnesses and help predict chronic childhood illnesses before they occur. He is obsessed with twins and thinks that they hold the key to understanding the roots of all human health problems. He is also committed to understanding how knowledge about epigenetic musicians can help reawaken the sleeping genes in Prader Willi syndrome.
In this episode:
In this week’s episode, Dr. Jeffery Craig, an internationally recognized expert on twins, shares with us some insight as to what makes twins so different and how these answers can lead us towards a healthier future and individualized medicine. With twin studies, he and his colleagues have been able to really look at the early life factors that could influence epigenetic states and influence health. These discoveries can help predict disease and target preventions or interventions to limit the burden of these diseases.
One of my favorite insights that took place during this interview was when Dr. Craig said that twins are already different before they are even born. He explains that these differences can be random that accumulate or influenced by the environment and that the differences seen in twins are telling us that there is a mystery in life and he thinks that it has helped our evolution and has helped us evolve and adapt.
Dr. Jeffery Craig answers the following questions:
- For those tuning in who may not know you yet, please tell them about your passion and why you chose a field in Environmental and Genetic Epidemiology and leading world-first research on twin studies as a way to express this passion?
- What is it about your work that pulls your heart to do the work you do?
- Today I want to discuss your collaborative twin studies that I read. Before we get to it I would like for you to add some clarity to a few key concepts for our listeners today who have not heard of some of the terms we will be discussing.
- May you please explain what DNA Methylation, Epigenetics, and imprinted genes mean regarding fetal development and how they affect a baby’s vulnerability to disease later in life?
- Before this interview I read 3 twin studies you were a part of titled:DNA methylation analysis of multiple tissues from newborn twins reveals both genetic and intrauterine components to variation in the human neonatal epigenome, Neonatal DNA methylation profile in human twins is specified by a complex interplay between intrauterine environmental and genetic factors, subject to tissue-specific influence, and The Peri/Postnatal Epigenetic Twins Study (PETS).As I read them, I noticed they built on one another, and there was a definite theme in the findings.
- Would you explain to those tuning in what you all were looking for in these twin studies and what was discovered?
- Why there are differences in methylation between twins who are monozygotic and those who are dizygotic?
- In the study titled, DNA methylation analysis of multiple tissues from newborn twins reveals both genetic and intrauterine components to variation in the human neonatal epigenome, it was stated: “The cumulative effect on methylation status varies in a tissue-dependent manner.”
- Would you explain what tissues were tested and why they were tested?
- What does it mean that methylation status varies in a tissue-dependent manner?
- In the same study, germline imprinting was discussed.
- May you explain what you all discovered about germline imprinting?
- By the time the study titled, The Peri/Postnatal Epigenetic Twins Study (PETS), was completed there seemed to be more clarity around what types of genes have more pronounced epigenetic effects. From my understanding of the studies, it seemed as though the genes that are more responsive to external environments seem to be the most reactive to epigenetic effects.
- Would you give an example of what this looks like and why this would be the case?
- Is this still the current understanding or has this changed since these studies were conducted?
- In your collaborative study titled, Neonatal DNA methylation profile in human twins is specified by a complex interplay between intrauterine environmental and genetic factors, subject to tissue-specific influence, it was stated: “This information is critical to understanding processes of development and evolution for future potential epigenetic-based interventions in complex disease.”
- May you explain why understanding this process of development and evolution would be so beneficial in allowing for epigenetic-based interventions for complex diseases?
- In your opinion why would epigenetic-based interventions be useful?
- In the articles, the term epigenetic drift came up. Would you explain what epigenetic drift means for our listeners?
- At the time of these studies, the effects of epigenetic drift were seen in some pairs however it was the opposite in others.
- What is hypothesized about epigenetic drift?
- Would you explain to our listeners why you all were looking for an epigenetic drift?
- Have you had any updates on epigenetic drift since conducting these studies?
- Outside of research, you are also passionate about getting the message of DOHaD out to the general public in New Zealand and Australia. You are a leader in 2 of the seven working groups that exist in New Zealand and Australia that are working together to synchronize research and messaging.
- Would you tell our listeners the mission and vision of these working groups?
- Where can people find more information about these groups?
- What changes in society would you like to see come from the field of developmental programming?
- What are the current challenges that you face to make the research implemented and actionable within our communities?
- What do you want community leaders to do with the discoveries in this field?
- What do you want planning and expecting parents to do with this information?
- Is there anything else you would like to add that we did not cover today?
- Where can people find more information about you and the work you do?
Research studies this episode is based on:
- DNA methylation analysis of multiple tissues from newborn twins reveals both genetic and intrauterine components to variation in the human neonatal epigenome
- Neonatal DNA methylation profile in human twins is specified by a complex interplay between intrauterine environmental and genetic factors, subject to tissue-specific influence
- The Peri/Postnatal Epigenetic Twins Study (PETS)
- The establishment of DOHaD working groups in Australia and New Zealand
Dr. Jeffery Craig’s recommended resources on epigenetics:
- Explainer: what is epigenetics?
- It’s not ALL in the genes—the role of epigenetics
- Australian Epigenetics Alliance
- Epigenomics Net
Where to find Dr. Jeffery Craig:
You may also like:
- How Epigenetics During Fetal Development May Be Linked to Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity Later in Life
- Dr. Joe Malone shares why the health of college women can shape the health of our future
- Dr. Caitlin O’Conner reveals how to create a sturdy foundation for family health
- Dr. Jillian Sarno-Teta talks about gut health and epigenetics for fetal development
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