DNA Facts: Interview with Environmental Specialist Douglas Mulhall

April 25th marked National DNA Day which prompted Environmental Specialist Douglas Mulhall to think about the sub-microscopic elements that make up human’s genetic composition.

April 25th marked National DNA Day which prompted Environmental Specialist Douglas Mulhall to think about the sub-microscopic elements that make up human’s genetic composition. While DNA is created and maintained inside the body, it can still be affected by the environment and surrounding changes. Douglas researches how one’s environment can have a direct effect on one’s DNA and this directly factors into one’s health. Below are some of the primary ways Douglas found environment to affect how DNA behaves.

Impact #1: Epigenetics

CRISPR and other technologies are used to manipulate genes by changing them, but while these are showing some success, they also have unforeseen, irreversible consequences. By contrast, epigenetics involves turning genes on and off without changing the DNA. It has one big advantage: the changes are reversible. This is especially clear when it comes to environmental impacts on genes’ behavior.

Impact #2: Environmental changes

Epigenetic evidence has been mounting that the environment is a major contributor to triggering heart disease. Epigenetic factors that turn on genes to activate the immune system include stealthy infections, toxic metals, and other environmental influences. Natural chemicals like polyphenols have long been known to have positive epigenetic impacts. Recent advances have regenerated the elastic in arteries using this approach, opening a new era in heart disease therapy and prevention. Nutraceuticals are also showing benefits.

Impact #3: Pathogens

Evidence suggests that the common mouth infection P. Gingivalis and other environmental pathogens are triggering and worsening Alzheimer’s through epigenetic changes that affect genes behavior without altering DNA. Therapies aimed at the plaques in Alzheimer’s have been a nearly complete failure after billions spent. Initial results from new clinical trials suggest that targeting environmental pathogens is a far more successful and less costly tactic. Those three breakthroughs are just the tip of the iceberg of the correlation between medical breakthroughs and how they are helping or hurting human bodies when they interact with the environment. Douglas Mulhall recently discussed these findings and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you develop your interest in the environment and how did you break into the wellness industry?

Douglas Mulhall (DM): Let’s start with the results. Today, thousands of people are benefiting from therapies that reverse the negative impacts of the environment on our heart health. Standard therapies don’t do this because they aren’t aimed at these environmental factors. That’s what my upcoming book is about. It took me a few decades to get there. When I was 17 working in an oil refinery, the power went off, and when the power goes off in an oil refinery all the production goes up the “stack” to a flare that burns off waste. Within about ten minutes the sky was black. That’s when I realized how much we were putting into the atmosphere and us, and that things had to change. The first major exposure I had to wellness in relation to epigenetics was when I started writing about a nutraceutical that significantly improves vascular health. From that I learned that wellness and technology can go together effectively. Wellness alone has it limits. No matter how well you are, your arteries still eventually turn to stone and the elastic in your arteries still falls apart (see image). Being one with the world regardless of how well you are does not solve these basic physiological realities. We still age and die before 120 and it still costs a fortune in medical care to keep us alive after about the age of 75. While wellness helps to slow the process, it doesn’t stop it. Neither do standard chronic illness drugs. The drugs industry and wellness industry need something else to break out of this vicious cycle.

MM: How did you start researching the health benefits of the environment, especially as it relates to DNA?

DM: It started with Mother Nature’s nasty side. I’ve always worked on creating environments that keep people healthy, but in 1994 an event woke me up to the reality of Mother Nature. The Shoemaker-Levy-9 comet smashed into Jupiter, punching Earth-sized holes in the planet. For the first time, humans had the technology to see such an event and for the first time everybody saw what could happen to Earth, and that it didn’t just happen every few million years. I realized that Mother Nature is agnostic about whether we live or die as a civilization. It taught me that nature is our teacher not our mother. All the things we do for and to the environment only make sense if we learn how to use nature’s tools to protect ourselves. At that time, I was in Brazil, where I was building a new kind of wastewater system to recover the nutrients and improve public health. My partner and I both got dengue fever and she almost died. Mother Nature again. At that point, we decided to pause everything we were doing to learn how highly advanced technologies could transform all of this. The result of that process was my book Our Molecular Future, How nanotechnology, robotics, genetics and artificial intelligence will transform our world.  It made the New Scientist magazine must-read list. Today the forecasts are coming true even faster than I predicted. Technology isn’t only changing what we do, it’s changing what we are. That’s where health and DNA come into it. DNA is nature’s ultimate nanotechnology.

MM: What most surprised you about the impact of one’s surroundings on their DNA?

DM: The fact that you can change how your genes operate without changing your DNA. Everything you eat, breathe and do changes how your genes react but doesn’t change the structure of your DNA. If you get an infection, it trains your genes how to react. This is known as epigenetics. The surprising thing is that it’s reversible. You can turn it on and off. That’s a lot safer than snipping parts of your DNA then trying to guess what’s going to happen to the rest of you in a few years. But epigenetics isn’t so simple. It evolved over millions of years and it still has a lot of mysteries. That is why we need things like supercomputing to figure out how exactly it works.

MM: How much research into the properties of DNA did you have to do?

DM: It started when I was in grade 3 and saw my first film about the double helix. Never forgot it. Many years later, I saw people getting chronically sick in ways that neither environmental science nor the drug industry could solve. My father died of heart disease for example. Then I saw human performance and health improving when we built healthy indoor environments. That was epigenetics at work, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Then I saw the nasty things that nature can do to us. Then I learned how nanotechnology is changing everything that we are and do. Then I became part of that story when I co-founded a company that uses nanotech for reversing chronic disease. Only after all that did I see how genes interact with their environment and how we might use that to improve and extend lives.

MM: What do you wish more people knew they could do to practice daily wellness?

DM: Wellness has to be combined with technological approaches to reversing the damage that our environment does to us. Some solutions are already available today, and we all need to agitate to scale up those solutions as well as accelerate the ones that are coming down the pipe. It’s only going to happen if we push for it.

MM: How did you start to attract media attention?

DM: Part of my training is in journalism and I became a media entrepreneur along the way, for example starting the first national commercial TV and radio network in Ukraine. But none of that qualifies you to get media attention for something like epigenetics. It’s not a simple topic. You have to learn how to make the pieces easily understood. You’re also dealing with ages-old attitudes like “doctors know best” and we’re only intended by God or genetics to live for so long. That’s what people were saying when child mortality rates were horrendous, and average life expectancy was 45 years. Getting past all that has taken a long time and it’s still a challenge.

MM: How do you think personal and environmental wellbeing translates into societal wellbeing?

DM: If we can get a better handle on this chronic disease known as aging, and people can stop worrying about going bankrupt at 50 due to healthcare costs, and all that suffering can be avoided, we stand a better chance to progress as a society. If you’re living long enough to see the results of your actions, you’re more likely to think about  what kind of future you want, instead of just making a mess and leaving it to someone else to clean up after you’re gone.

MM: How do you hope your career evolves and expands from here?

DM: I wouldn’t mind being part of the technologies that let us grow younger instead of older. We might also use those to fix the environmental mess that we’re creating. For example, some of the therapies I work with are biodegradable and could be adapted for other purposes.

MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

DM: One is our work on the technology that restores the elastic that lets us do everything we do. The other is my book describing how that works. However, it’s also about what we can do to improve health today while we’re waiting for technologies like that. The technologies are available right now, we don’t have to wait. We just have to demand access to them. If people want to learn more about those, they can visit www.natureoflongevity.com .