Using a process that’s as easy as gargling with Scope, researchers can now gather data to understand how various stimuli activate gene expression in humans. Through a non-invasive method, study participants can now provide a sample of their RNA by swishing a mouthwash solution for 30 seconds, a painless and preferable alternative to drawing blood with a needle.
After two decades of research and in-depth investigation, often in collaboration with Kenneth Rachlin at the California Pacific Medical Center, IONS Scientist Dr. Garret Yount received a patent for the method following an extensive review by the U.S. Patent Office. Dr. Yount envisions this breakthrough approach as fundamental to the mission of IONS, an organization dedicated to understanding the interconnected nature of humankind and the power of human consciousness.
To appreciate the game-changing potential of this method, it is useful to consider a few fundamentals of molecular biology. DNA is responsible for storing and transferring genetic information, while RNA dictates how genes are expressed. While RNA can be collected from any biological material, it must come from active blood cells to capture the ever-changing messages being exchanged between the brain and the body. Rather than drawing blood, however, the new method collects RNA from blood cells from the gums, stimulated by both a specialized solution and a study participant’s swishing action.
The method can perhaps be best understood by its juxtaposition with current mail-in tests popular for understanding one’s ancestry. These analyses rely on DNA—static data about one’ inherited traits, including any genetic predispositions for certain health risks. Dr. Yount’s method, on the other hand, extracts RNA—its dynamism being key to understanding how different stimuli influence the expression of genes, including those related to health. Past studies have found that relaxation practices, for example, can enhance the expression of genes related to energy metabolism and reduce the expression of genes linked to inflammatory response.
“Just as biofeedback gives us real-time data about the body, this method provides genome feedback—real-time data about how gene expression is influenced by our external environment and internal states,” explains Dr. Yount. “At IONS, we’re especially interested in internal stimuli. With this new method, we hope to better understand how the mind influences gene activity.”
On an individual level, this new non-invasive approach is ideal for testing how mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga might influence gene expression. The ease of using a quick oral rinse before and after such activities differs significantly from the discomfort and anxiety most people experience during a blood draw. On a broader level, the new method opens a whole range of field conditions where data can be gathered, making it feasible to collect samples from all over the world and substantially increase the statistical significance of any research results.
Such a global application is exactly what Dr. Yount envisions for the method. He hopes it will catalyze researchers all over the world to collaborate on understanding how mind-based techniques can impact the body. By sharing their data through a central hub at the IONS Discovery Lab, scientists all over the world can contribute to the institute’s groundbreaking work on consciousness research.