Adding to the debate of ‘nature vs. nurture,’ scientists are increasingly determining that environmental influences can affect the expression of genes – meaning that ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ are, to a great extent, tied together. This revelation has important consequences in the world of food allergy research as scientists strive to understand the cause of food allergies.
A recent study published inClinical and Experimental Allergy notes that genetic components substantially influence the development of food allergies, particularly in developed nations. Food allergies tend to run in families and co-occur with several related conditions such as asthma and eczema. The researchers find that genetic predisposition (family members with allergies) is a strong indicator of a child’s chance of developing food allergies.
On the other hand, genetics aren’t everything. The environment affects gene expression – or what characteristics encoded in an individual’s DNA are actually expressed. A gene must be ‘expressed’ in order to affect appearance, health, or behavior. The current theory, according toHighlight Health,is that without certain environmental triggers, there are some genes that remain inactive. In other words, the environment may be able to turn the gene for a food allergy on or off.
While the scientific understanding of food allergy causes is still in process, it appears that both nature and nurture play a role. Researchers hope that someday, it may be possible for people with a high genetic risk of allergies to avoid the environmental causes that trigger allergy-related genes.