How to change your genes by changing your lifestyle

By Kat Arney DID you hear the one about how the giraffe got its neck? Aeons ago there was an animal that walked along a dusty path to a watering hole every morning. Halfway, she would spot a patch of trees with the tastiest, most succulent leaves on the savannah. Stretch as she might, she couldn’t quite reach them. Then one day the stretching paid off, and she suddenly had a mouthful of juicy fronds. Years passed, and the giraffe had babies. Over the generations they became spindlier and spindlier, reaching ever higher into the treetops. It could be one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, and you can see its charm: keep studying, training and eating healthily, and you can change yourself for the better. Not only that, but your efforts will endure and future generations will benefit, too. It’s just a shame that scientists from Darwin onwards have said that this picture is flat-out wrong. Random mutations in DNA, corralled by the forces of natural selection, fuel evolutionary change. There’s no change in that basic picture, but some recent research suggests that elements of our giraffe story might not be so wide of the mark after all. Far from being a rigid instruction manual, our DNA is flexible and responsive – and we might be able to change much more than we thought. Almost all your cells hold the same 20,000 or so genes,
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