Epigenome1. Why We Love Sports
Survival of the Fittest
August 2, 2015
If you are reading this, you are more than likely playing with a full deck. Not of cards, per se.
You are playing with a full deck of chromosomes, 46, to be exact.
Only 6 cards short, of a full deck.
After nature’s shuffle, you were dealt 23, from each of your parents.
And unbeknownst to you, you now carry the entirety of you previous ancestor’s baggage, on your genetic shoulders.
Each family develops their own distinct family tree, as individuals branch off into their own pursuits under the sun.
The trunk that each family draws from, as the tree grows, is the FAMILY COLLECTION of genes, that have maintained a strong presence in many of your prior generations.
These genes are not only the reason why your Aunt thinks you look just like your Great Great Grandparent, but also why things like Hemophilia, Diabetes, or Anxiety, may also be inherited.
This genetic diary that each family creates over successive generations, has many pages of genetic possibilities.
There are some genes that become copied on many pages, which is why skin, height, and hair, may appear in many siblings or cousins.
And there are other genetic traits that may appear on only a few pages, or were torn out, prior to this codex ever being passed on, to you.
When your parents had sex, many years ago, and you were created, this was also the birth of your genetic diary. And your parents each contributed a single page, of their family’s collective story.
This initial blueprint, created genetic guidelines; potentials and possibilities that would require the friction of experience, to become fully exposed.
And as you live your life, even currently, in this moment, your genes are interacting with your environment.
This bidirectional dialogue shapes your ideas about what you think you are capable of, and what you may idealize in others.
This diary that is passed on, in successive generations in families, is called your EPIGENOME.
This relatively new understanding about how our chromosomes work, has led to the study of EPIGENETICS.
Essentially, we now know that, not only do your parents, pass chromosomes to you (called your GENOME).
We also know that your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, pass special genes to you, called the EPIGENOME.
These genes are like DNA switchboard operators, and have the ability to turn on some genes, and turn off others.
It is in this way, like the game TELEPHONE, that the EPIGENOME passes your Family Genetic Conversation from one generation to the next.
But just like the TELEPHONE game, with many members, the message becomes changed, for better or worse, by every consecutive player.
The EPIGENOME is involved in regulating the expression of genetic traits.
Unlike the underlying GENOME, which is largely unchangeable within an individual, the EPIGENOME can be changed significantly, by environmental conditions.
Changes to the EPIGENOME can result in changes in the structure of genetic CHROMATIN, which leads to abnormal functioning of the gene.
This new realization means that genes are not just something that you merely carry with you, in a tiny black box, in every cell.
Rather, this Pandora’s Box can be opened by you, and it’s contents can be tinkered with.
And every tinker, leaves a lasting legacy.
Your LIFESTYLE can affect the pages of the diary.
Some experiences and behaviors can singe the edge of every page, or create tears and improper folds.
The way the EPIGENOME is changed, by the lifestyle decisions we make every day, occurs in both DNA and Histones.
And remember, both can not only affect yourself; these malignant changes can also be passed on to all future offspring.
This occurs through the disruption of DNA Methylation. These changes can alter the function of CHROMATIN, which in turn can change the functioning of the genome.
One example of this, may be applied to smoking.
There are many other examples that may be covered in the future, such as maternal malnutrition in the 3rd trimester causing small height and weight for life. Or famines, occurring 100 years ago, still having effects on surviving family members, to this day.
But we came here to talk about sports today.
(Cue Salt ‘n Peppa)
Let’s talk about Sports, baby,
and their role in society.
Sports occupy a privileged place in our current society, whether you are in a first world country, with season tickets, or living in poverty, playing soccer with a bundle of rags.
If we focus on North America, and consider that most of us can pretty much do whatever we want with our spare time, it amazing how often we choose sports events, shows, and follow athlete’s lives off the pitch.
And sports are often very expensive and time consuming, whether you are a fan on the couch, or a starter on the field.
Considering how highly humans value both time and money, something deeper must be going on.
So lets dig a little deeper, into our collective Epigenetic Human History, to see if there are any answers…
Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years.
The branch off from Great Apes occurred somewhere between 6-15 million years ago.
The first Human-like ancestors appeared about 6 million years ago, and only developed TOOLS, roughly 2.5 million years ago.
Most of the stuff that feels like it has been around forever, has actually occupied the tiniest of time pieces, on our species’ lifeline.
The bow and arrow was invented about 64,000 years ago.
Guns have been around for about 800 years, therefore present for roughly 0.4%, of our genetic history.
Ben Franklin essentially discovered Electricity, 250 years ago.
Cars were invented, about 200 years ago, by Francois Isaac de Rivaz.
The internet has been around for 25 years, or for about one thousandth of one percent, of our genetic timeline.
So for most of the time, if we trace our ancestors back, life was hard, dark, and literally only the strongest survived.
We have lived, in our genes, in some form or another for millions of years.
And for most of that time, we lived in small groups, where cooperation was needed to survive conditions, creatures and competition from close comrades.
And as we grew into larger and larger groups, in the coalescence of humanity that history has shown us, the more physically strong or skilled, were the leaders.
For millions of years, the people with genes that led to physical strength, were the most powerful.
And their family, and its many members, became our leaders.
Back then, there was no such thing as the police, to solve domestic disputes.
The toughest got what they wanted, and the rest decided how many of themselves felt brave enough to chance a revolution.
Once tools and weapons were developed, brute strength could be beaten by skill, with a club or bow.
Recall, in the examples earlier, where we discussed your ancestor’s LIFESTYLES, affecting their families EPIGENOMES.
Well, the effect also works in beneficial ways too.
Genetic lineages can follow lines of athletics, intelligence, or music, to name only a few.
We are merely the latest chapter, in Earth’s Species Development Program, in the Human Section.
For much of this history, it has been the physically strongest, that have dominated our hunts, villages, intercourse, and nepotism.
This is a history that can never be forgotten, woven into the unconscious messages, of your EPIGENOME.
Many of us may enjoy being athletic in general, or a specific sport or 2.
Few of us can rise to the top of our population, purely pursuing athletic endeavors.
For those that do, it sparks memories of times and places, of primitive survival, that your parents lived through, to make you.
And the ones that do make it, to ESPN and TSN, are those same Champions of our villages. They are the same Gladiators who fought in our arenas, to see whose tribe was toughest.
They were the same brave souls, who took down the ferocious animal, and saved the tribe from starvation.
We wear our Team’s, and Champion’s colors, and look to them to represent our nations, as we square off, in Olympic pursuits.
We take the losses of our sports teams personally, as these defeats, echo in long forgotten chambers of our memory.
Of times when loved ones were killed, or taken, to swim in another genetic pool.
We celebrate their goals, like something has been killed.
And after the celebration, the group resets, to hunt again.
These memories don’t properly explain to us, why professional athletes are paid so much money.
And there are times, when the present Frontal Lobe asks questions, such as whether they are overpaid.
But those conversations don’t last too long, into the next season, of your favorite team; where you cheer, alongside thousands of other members of your city tribe, hoping your gladiators are victorious.
These experiences, for the past several million years, have likely paved the way to certain aspects of our Paternalistic society.
But perhaps that is best left, for another essay.
Please be kind to your EPIGENOME. Besides this planet, it is the one thing all the future children in your family line, will inherit from you.
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. His genes were probably the weakest in the village, so he learned to run really fast.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at