Nothing in life can be attributed to just one thing alone, the same can be said for the genes. When we think of genes, the most common perception is that genes are responsible for eye and hair color, bone structure, body shape and the chance of having certain health issues. This is a very limited view. The genes are much more than just a static blueprint that is perhaps needed only during the formative years. In reality genes are expressed millions of times a minute inside each of our 10’s of trillions of cells. Genes in cells are very active all the time. What is gene expression and how are the genes expressed?
Genes in a cell are like apps on a cellular phone or a computer. When you want an app to start, you touch or click on an icon button, this starts up the app, or in genetic language starts the “expression” of the app. Each app is programmed to do something different just as each gene in your cells is programmed to do something unique. If you want to make a phone call on your smart phone, you press the phone app, for example, this brings up a dialer that lets you look up a name or dial a number. Inside your body’s cells, the genes (apps) have coding that makes specific molecules called proteins out of amino acids (lego-like building blocks). The proteins that are made can be used to build parts of the cell, like muscle fibers, or can be used to do something, like make antioxidants or hormones.
Every time you blink an eye, think a thought, feel a breeze, twitch a muscle, feel the sun, or take a breath, genes are being expressed to help it to happen. Genes are very active. And just like cell-phone-apps, these genes require something to press the buttons to start them or express them. A smart phone or computer has lots of buttons, keyboards full of them, each button “expresses” a different app to do something. If you do not press the buttons on your device, generally nothing will happen. The cells in your body are the same, if nothing presses the gene buttons, not much will happen. Thousands of the gene buttons are being pushed in your cells every second. Your cells have close to 20,000 genes and about as many “buttons” that start these genes to do their work. The question might come to mind, “How does a cell know which of all the gene buttons to press (express) to keep everything working correctly in our cells?” The answer might surprise you.
Almost everything in the environment of the cell pushes genetic buttons (expresses genes): molecules from the food we eat, the thoughts we think, the muscles we flex, the things we see and feel, the hormones, the nerves, the temperature, the water, the air, all body systems, the blood, cell signaling messengers, messages coming from surrounding cells, and so on. Just a few examples: sugar in the blood sends messages to express the “insulin producing” genes in pancreatic cells. The Insulin, in turn, pushes the buttons to burn more sugar, convert sugars to fats and store fats. Even visual stimulation expresses genes. When looking at something beautiful, our mind pushes the buttons to make “feel good” hormones in our brain, or when looking at something scary, it produces stress shock hormones in the brain. If we pay attention, we can certainly feel and experience the effects when these genetic pathways as they are activated, these experiences are very common in our daily life.
The study of what pushes the genetic buttons is called “epigenetics” (beyond genes) and it is a very hot topic in biology. Biotech companies, such as Affymetrix, have created little microchips that can measure the genetic buttons pushed in most all of our genes. From a blood sample, each microchip can monitor 10’s of thousands of the genetic expressions. This is a great tool that allows us to peek inside the cells of our body and monitor which gene buttons are being pushed. Since there are so many buttons, the analysis of these data can take some time and requires vast experience and large databases. Many genetic databases have been compiled over the years and we are using them to see how our genes respond to different foods, supplements and environmental factors.
Recently an Affimetrix panel was run by a credible genetics lab on 60 people to determine what happens to human genetic expression (which gene buttons are pushed) when people drink a certain safe formulation of redox signaling molecules. An experiment was designed to determine which genes are expressed when these signaling molecules are orally ingested. A group of people (25) drank only salt water (the placebo group), another group (25) drank the redox signaling molecules with salt water (the study group), and a third, smaller group (10), did not drink anything different than the usual (the control group). The people did this over a period of 8 weeks.
The results showed moderate but significant differences in genetic activity between the study group and the placebo and control groups over 8 weeks. Five gene expressions were identified as different, the results were significant and very interesting for a variety of reasons. It was found that the genetic buttons pushed by these redox signaling molecules express some of the most important signaling apps available inside the cells. Some types of genes are more important than others. The signaling genes (the ones that cause messages to be sent) are of utmost importance, just like the dialing and call transmission apps on your smart phone; they allow the cells to effectively talk to one another. The signaling channels (or pathways) in our cells can be very complex; signals are passed from cell to cell, from cells to nerve cells, from nerve cells to nerve cells, and back to cells all throughout the body. These signals in turn help express the genetic buttons that make everything in the body work the way it should. The five genes identified by the study have substantial applications to many of the most important signaling channels, they provide important components that are critical to the signaling pathways all throughout our body.
For example, the “ERG1” gene registered a highly significant response in the study. It produces an important transfer factor that connects several important cell signaling channels, including G-proteins that are critically involved in sending and receiving hormone messages between cells, such as reception of insulin to help control blood sugar, serotonin the “feel good” hormone that contributes to mental relaxation and balance, and the regulation of hormones that balance sleep and wake cycles. Among the hormonal pathways are also those which help regulate reproductive systems and metabolic balance through the ovarian and thyroid hormones. Additionally, EGR1 also connects to the NRF2 pathway that is involved in setting up the cell defense network by increasing antioxidant production. These processes help in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which in turn helps the cells better identify the “malfunctioning cells” to switch on the genes (apps) that eliminate dysfunctional cells and repair and replace healthy cells. The ERG1 gene can be thought of as a “router” app that helps keep important networks up and running. As computer and phone networks become more prevalent, it is easier for us to understand the role and importance of these “router” genes that help keep everything connected.
If we look at some of the other genes expressed in the study there are those that help repair blood vessels and that others that create important digestive enzymes needed to break down and digest the foods we eat. Isn’t it interesting that the expression of just one signaling gene can affect so many different genes and functions in our body? The signaling pathways are complex and interconnected networks. As we study it out, it becomes clear that if just one of the signaling “router” genes goes down in our body, it will disrupt multiple systems and communication pathways as well. If just one of the “router” genes is restored, it helps to reconnect everything again to regain functionality of systems all across the body.
Many of the results from this recent genetic study support years of prior studies that have shown indications of reduction of oxidative stress, such as the reduction oxidized glutathione and reduction of oxidized LDL cholesterol from previous human studies . Some of the results, though, open new areas of understanding, such as activation of genes that improve the elasticity and tone of blood vessels and the expression of beneficial digestive enzymes in the stomach. These new results correlate with observations made by thousands of people that are drinking the redox cell signaling supplement who report regularly that vascular tone is improving, circulation is improving and digestion is improving. We now have the added benefit of being able to better identify the genetic pathways that help explain what makes this all happen. It certainly opens our mind to the understanding that technologies that improve cell signaling can be universally beneficial to the entire body.