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DGP: What is a Gene? [Episode 2]

DGP: What is a Gene? [Episode 2]

Welcome to this week’s SnpIt. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic. Today’s topic answers the question: What is a Gene?

I'm Dr. Ben Lynch — welcome to the Dirty Genes Podcast. I hope you enjoy the episode! If you do, be sure to give a thumbs-up, rate it, leave a comment, and Subscribe here

Table of Contents 

In this episode, we cover:

  • Book definition of a Gene
  • Dr. Lynch’s Definition of a Gene
  • We have about 18 - 20,000 blueprints. We’re born with them.
  • You get two copies of every gene in the body. One from your dad and one from your mom. 
  • Together, all 18-20,000 genes make up something called your genome. 
  • Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is found nearly everywhere in your body. 
  • DNA doesn’t just work all day long printing your genes.
  • Genes are called upon to make things when we need them. Most genes are turned off. It makes more sense to conserve resources rather than waste them.
  • Typically, genes work together - not in isolation. 

Dr. Lynch’s Gene Cheat Sheet

The book standard definition of gene:

  • A unit of heredity which is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring.
  • A distinct sequence of nucleotides forming part of a chromosome, the order of which determines the order of monomers in a polypeptide or nucleic acid molecule which a cell (or virus) may synthesize.
Dr. Lynch’s definition of a gene:
  • Genes are blueprints. They’re an instructional manual so our body can access them any time in order to build, repair or transform something in our body. 

We have about 18 - 20,000 blueprints. We’re born with them.

  • You have genes that are designed to do basically every function in your body
  • For example, you have a gene that makes your red blood cell, a gene for eye color, a gene to make histamine, a gene to get rid of histamine, a gene to carry histamine, a gene to bind histamine.

You get two copies of every gene in the body. One from your dad and one from your mom.

  • Inheriting your genes this way increases diversity. I mean you wouldn’t want to be 100% your mom or your dad, right?

Together, all 18-20,000 genes make up something called your genome.

  • Your genome is the sum total of all our DNA.

Your DNA is found nearly everywhere in your body.

  • It’s stored in all cells that contain a nucleus. The nucleus is the part of the cell which houses your DNA.
  • Do you know which cells don’t have a nucleus - and thus no DNA?
    • Mature red blood cells, skin cells, nails, and hair
    • All other cells have a nucleus that contains your DNA.

DNA doesn’t just work all day long printing your genes.

  • In fact, your DNA is tightly coiled up protecting your genes - your 18,000 blueprints.
  • They sit there until they are instructed to do something.
    • Think of genes as the recipe to make something.
    • You have tons of recipes.
    • For bread, cakes, salads, meats, fish, hors d'oeuvres, drinks you have the recipe - but you don’t have the finished product - the awesome tasting Grandma’s enchilada or pecan pie.
    • Imagine if all your recipes made something by themselves whenever they wanted
    • Be a huge waste of ingredients, your oven and stove be on all the time, dishes everywhere, entire house filled with prepared food.
    • Then your fridge would be empty, all your dishes dirty, and likely house on fire from the stove and oven being on all the time - not to mention your energy bill massive
    • Now - just like you cannot edit Grandma Sue’s pumpkin pie recipe, you cannot edit or change your 18,000 blueprints - ie your genes.
    • The recipe is set in stone. I mean - do you really want to mess with Grandma’s recipe? It has been around for some time.

Genes are called upon to make things when we need them.

  • Most genes are turned off. It makes more sense to conserve resources rather than waste them.
    • For example, Your oven turns on when you turn it on. Otherwise, you're wasting energy, burning fossil fuels, burning your house down, losing money, and will need to work more to pay it off.
    • Your faucet turns on when you turn it on - and off. Otherwise, you're wasting water, possibly flooding your home, paying sewer bills, and hurting someone who has limited water.
    • If your genes worked all the time, they'd create too much product (histamine, serotonin, glutathione, saliva, skin, hair..), use too many ingredients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids..), and make too many waste products (ammonia, hydrogen peroxide...). Not to mention, you'd probably be 50 feet tall and eating the equivalent of 2 entire refrigerators full of food daily. That's expensive - and hard life.

Typically, genes work together - not in isolation.

  • Consider your 18,000 genes as one big team that practices and plays together - each and every day. They all show up to practice.
    • When one gene of yours gets to work, others are called upon. Not always - but very often.
    • For example, your MTHFR gene makes methylfolate.
    • The MTR gene uses the methylfolate along with methylcobalamin to recycle homocysteine into methionine.
    • The MTRR gene recycles your cobalamin back to methylcobalamin.
    • Methionine turns into SAMe via the MAT1A gene.
    • Now SAMe goes and supports over 200 other genes so they can function - like COMT.
    • So by triggering one gene, you've triggered hundreds of them.

Start thinking that your genes are a team - and you are the coach!

Show Notes

The Dirty Genes book by Dr. Ben Lynch

Episode 2 Transcript: What is a Gene? 

Welcome to this week's SNPit. This is where we get down and dirty on a specific topic. Today's topic is: What is a Gene? I'm Dr. Ben Lynch, and this is the Dirty Genes Podcast.

Gene Definitions

What is a gene? Yeah, you can look that up easily on your phone. You can ask Siri, "What is a gene?" And she'll tell you. But my goal today is to think about genes in a different way that's applicable and approachable and that you can resonate with.

I mean, here's the definition: "It's a distinct sequence of nucleotides forming part of a chromosome, the order of which determines the order of monomers in a peptide or nucleic acid molecule, which a cell or virus may synthesize."

Gag me. That's terrible. Here's another one: "A unit of heredity, which is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring."

All right. Still not useful. I don't like that. So, let's think of it in a way that's useful. You hear the word gene all the time, and you should have some understanding of how your genes are functioning or what your genes are doing.

For example, let’s talk about a specific gene, like the MTHFR gene. You want to know how to fix it because you've done genetic testing, and discovered you have a variant in your MTHFR gene. And you're like, "Oh my gosh, what do I do? How do I fix that?"

Hold on. Let's first understand what a gene is. My grandfather always said, "Ben, you have to explain things in a way that people can understand, because if they don't understand every word that you are saying, you're going to lose them." And he was right.

So the goal here today is for you to understand what a gene is. If you want the technical down and dirty stuff, knock yourself out and read textbooks. Talk to the genetic professors. But I'm going to use examples which allow you to take your understanding to a practical level.

Your Genes are Your Blueprint

So, a gene from a practical perspective, is your blueprint. It's a specific blueprint that does a specific thing. In our bodies, we have about 18,000 to 20,000 different genes. Yeah, that's a lot. The researchers who have done the Human Genome Project, which was done quite some time ago now, were amazing. I mean, they've done some great things with that.

But we still don't know exactly how many genes are in our human genome. So if you have 18,000 to 20,000 genes, that means you have 18,000 to 20,000 different blueprints, which means we have 18,000 to 20,000 different things that we can be building.

I want you to start thinking of your genes as tools that help build different things, which help repair and remove things. Your genes have a lot of different jobs, and every gene can have one job or multiple jobs.

For example, let’s say you go outside and it's sunny. You're on vacation and you burn your skin, then you get red. And then that skin dies and peels off. Well, that dead skin has triggered a gene to make more skin cells for you.

So, an environmental trigger came, the sun, burned your skin, damaged it, peeled it off, eliminated it. And now you have to repair that. That is what your blueprints (genes) do. You have a blueprint to make more skin, and you need that blueprint available, so when you do something that damages your skin, you can rebuild it. And, so, that's what your genes do for you.

Your Genome in a Nucleus Shell

Now, these 18,000 to 20,000 different genes make up what's called your genome. And your genome is stored in a nucleus of your cell. And your nucleus is a small, tiny thing, inside your cell, which houses your entire genome.

And, so, interestingly, your nucleus is found in basically every single cell in your body, except a few. And those few cells where the nucleus is missing, it was there to begin with.

For example, the areas in your body which do not have a nucleus (i.e., no genome, no genes, and no DNA) are your mature red blood cells, and your mature hair, skin, and nails. And you need the genome, the nucleus in your young red blood cells and your young hair, your young skin, and your young nails, because that is what's giving the information to make those things.

If you don't have the genes there, or your blueprints there, to make the red blood cells, then you have no red blood cells. You have no hair. You have no skin, and you have no nails. But, interestingly, once the red blood cell is produced and matures, it kicks out the nucleus. It's gone. It spits it out. So, you have no more genetics, or your genome is gone, from your red blood cell and your hair, skin, and nails.

Why would your body do that? Well, if your genes' job is to produce something, and it's already produced, then there's no point to have the nucleus there anymore because it's already produced. If your red blood cell has been made, and if the red blood cells' job is to deliver oxygen throughout the body, then that red blood cell should probably be pretty darn small to be able to deliver oxygen throughout the entire body.

And if your red blood cell has a nucleus in it, then it's not so small because it's got to house 18,000 different genes in there. That’s why your red blood cell spits out the nucleus, so your body can receive oxygen throughout your entire body, which is pretty amazing. I love how the body works

Every Gene Has a Job

So, genes have jobs to do. These jobs are clearly set and defined with a blueprint.

I want to give you a few different examples. You have a gene that makes histamine. You have a gene that makes your melatonin. You have a gene that makes your serotonin. You have a gene that makes your dopamine. You have a gene which gets rid of all those different things. And there are blueprints for each one of those steps.

There's a blueprint to make the dopamine. There's a blueprint to start breaking the dopamine down so you can pee it out, because you don’t want too much. You are in control of all of these different things. You're in control of how your body will produce that dopamine. You're in control of how your body will be eliminating that dopamine, to some degree. 

Your Genes are the Recipe

So, why would that be? Now, imagine your genes as a recipe. Imagine you're in your kitchen and you open your cabinet and see thousands of different recipes that have been passed down from generations in your family—every one of those recipes is a gene, every single one.

And if you think of it that way, then every one of those genes has a specific thing to do, make a special pumpkin bread, maybe pumpkin pie, or a certain type of French toast, or some type of hors d'oeuvre, maybe some type of drink. So, very specific, with this very specific set of ingredients. Same as your genes.

Now, if your recipes did what they wanted, willy nilly, and every single one of those recipes just started making things on their own, you'd walk in your home one day after work, and your kitchen would be filled with hors d'oeuvres and pies and cakes and meats and different mixed drinks, and the kitchen would be a total mess.

And, at first, you think, "Wow, who made this amazing buffet? That's pretty cool." But then you come back the next day, and it's doubled in size. You have even more food that has been prepared. You can't eat all that. So what happens?

Well, you come back from work the next day, there's even more food that's prepared. Now, there's omelets stacked to the ceiling. There's French toast all over the floor. There's steak and eggs all over the place. And you're like, "What the heck, man? Stop, recipes. Stop doing this."

Now, your fridge is empty because your genes can only produce the things that they have resources for. So all the ingredients that you've had in your fridge, all in your cabinets, your drawers, they've been all used up. Plus all the clean-up that had to be done, didn't get done because those genes were not triggered. They weren't told to clean up the mess. Just the recipes decided to turn on.

All that to say, you’ve got to have your genes functioning when you want them to function, in a way that’s timely, and by providing the right resources they need to do their best jobs. Otherwise, you run out of resources, and other things happen. I mean, imagine if that food just was sitting around in your kitchen. You'd have flies and worms and bugs and all sorts of things, maybe a pack of wolves in there, eating all this stuff.

YOU Control Your Genes

So, your genes do things when they're called upon to do it. And they do it that way to conserve resources and to do it in a controlled, orchestrated manner. So if you're stressed out and anxious, and I yell, "Boo!" and scare you, your genes quickly fire and make a bunch of stuff so you can focus. And your dopamine goes up. Your norepinephrine goes up, and your epinephrine goes up. Your genes go into high alert and to make more, so you can get the heck out of there or be super aware, so you can make a very rational, quick decision. So, your genes get called upon in those situations.

Now, some genes you have no control over, and they happen to do their jobs while you're developing inside your mom. So, your skin color, your hair color, your eye color, all that's predetermined by your genetics. And once you are born, your skin is set, in terms of its color. Your hair is set, and your eye color is set, and that's done. You can't control that anymore.

Now, genes that we have no control over are truly the minority. Yet many of us think that all the genes in the human body function that way. But I want to tell you that is not how things work. You are in control of the majority of your genes. 

Rewrite Your Genetic History

I want to switch the narrative on, when you go to the doctor and say, "What's your family history?" Because as the doctor is asking you the question, what they're actually saying is, "Which things are genetic in your family that you've inherited that have increased your risk?"


If you have mood disorders in your family or addictive disorders in your family or sleep disorders in your family and you write all that stuff down, the doctor's going to look at that and say, "Oh, you have a high risk of having these different things."


And then you look at that, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, I don't want to get heart problems. I don't want to have mood issues." And now you feel devastated and disempowered.

And I'm here to tell you, that while you cannot change your skin color or your natural hair color, you CAN change that narrative, when you go to the doctor and say, put down your family history.

It's important to know your family history. I get that. But stop thinking that, "Oh, I'm going to become an alcoholic someday," or "I'm going to really be depressed someday, just like my mom or my dad or my sister or my brother."

No. In fact, twins who are genetically identical have different problems with their health. They struggle from different things. Why? Because of epigenetics, which we'll get into in the next episode of the Dirty Genes Podcast.

What Genes are YOU Turning On?

So, for now, I want you to feel empowered. And I want you to know that the majority of your genes, the majority of your blueprints, are called upon when you need them. So when you want to pull that recipe out for French toast, because you feel like French toast, but no, you change your mind. You actually don't want a French toast because you're cutting down carbs. You put it back, and you want to have some eggs and bacon. And there's a certain type of eggs that you really want to cook. And so you pull out that recipe for grandma's omelet, and you prepare it.

So you've made that choice, just like you're going to make the choice to turn on which gene. Are you going to turn on the stressor genes? Are you going to turn on the histamine-producing genes? Or are you going to produce the genes that encourage you to have a healthy, calm mind, or are you going to produce genes which help get rid of the chemicals in your body to pull out the arsenic and the mercury? Yes, there's genes for that too. Thankfully.

Discover YOUR Dirty Genes

I want you to always remember that YOU are in control. If you want to learn the specifics of your own unique genes, you can read the book Dirty Genes, which I wrote a couple of years ago now, and is still well-read by people across the planet in multiple languages. You’ll learn much more than simply “what is a gene.” You’ll learn how to control your genes because that is your genetic birthright. Until next time on the Dirty Genes Podcast, take care.

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