Dr Lindsey Goff explores the effects of parenting on our molecular heritage

You could say that parenting begins at conception, when a unique mélange of DNA is born. This genetic mélange – your genome – is one of the few permanencies in life. It grows older with you and, except when mutated as in the case of disease, never changes.  Of course this is not all you are. From birth, the way your parents treat you, feed you and care for you influences your identity.

Since 1953 when Watson and Crick solved the crystal structure of DNA, the heritable code of life, we now understand much more about how our genome works. Identifying genes through DNA sequencing through to characterising their faults is today routine lab practice. Yet understanding how our early environment influences our physical and psychological identity is still a matter for speculation. One approach to exploring the influence of the environment over genetics is the study of identical twins (with the same genome), especially those separated at birth by circumstance and given different upbringings.