Epigenetics: Using best parts of food to fight worst human ailments

A stack of tomatoes, radishes, beans and other vegetables.

With his arrival at the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology in September, Rod Dashwood, Ph.D. brings an entirely new approach to the old adage, “You are what you eat.”

It’s a simple premise: the food we consume is made of substances that can affect our bodies in positive or negative ways. Dashwood, a world-renowned expert in dietary cancer prevention and epigenetics, takes that idea a step further. Through epigenetics— the study of how alterations in gene expression can be caused by mechanisms other than changes in the DNA sequence — Dashwood explores how to take the most beneficial parts of food and use them to fight cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

Dashwood and his team work to identify how beneficial substances in food can be isolated, replicated and used to prevent diseases. They look for phytochemicals—naturally occurring plant compounds—and other compounds in whole foods that inhibit disease or have other protective qualities beneficial to humans and animals. Such compounds would then be used to develop medicines and preventive treatments.