Once again, scientific results are showing in yet uncertain ways that life is always more interconnected, more subtle, and more stunningly beautiful than science previously thought. In fact, epigenetics may just usher in a huge expansion on the traditional view of Darwinian inheritance, and that would be wonderful.

So much for our heavy-handed, definitive—if not fundamentalist—conclusions on the mystery of it all being solved.

From a BBC web-page for the very interesting documentary Ghost in Your Genes:

Biology stands on the brink of a shift in the understanding of inheritance. The discovery of epigenetics—hidden influences upon the genes—could affect every aspect of our lives.

At the heart of this new field is a simple but contentious idea—that genes have a ‘memory’. That the lives of your grandparents—the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw—can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. And that what you do in your lifetime could in turn affect your grandchildren.

The conventional view is that DNA carries all our heritable information and that nothing an individual does in their lifetime will be biologically passed to their children. To many scientists, epigenetics amounts to a heresy, calling into question the accepted view of the DNA sequence—a cornerstone on which modern biology sits.

At the conclusion of the documentary, scientist Marcus Pembry offers this:

“They may get to the point where they [scientists] realize you live your life as a sort of guardian of your genome. You’ve got to be careful of it because it’s not just you. You can’t be selfish. You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ll smoke or I’ll do whatever it is because I’m prepared to die early.’ You’re also looking after it for your children and grandchildren. It’s changing they way think about inheritence forever.”

In the film, a Professor, Lars Olov Bygen from Sweden, had studied—via well kept records—generations of a small farming village in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle. He had started to see increasingly interesting patterns across generations that indicated that environmental pressures (ie famine) in one generation might be causing genetically interesting results (both positive and negative) in another generation. Bygen sent the information to Pembry, and the two joined forces in the research.

The NOVA narration states:

Pembry was immediately struck by seemingly bizarre connections between gender, diet and health—connections that were most pronounced two generations later. Men, for example, who experienced famine at around age ten, had paternal grandsons who lived much longer than those [grandsons] whose grandfathers experienced plenty.

Yet women who experienced famine while in the womb had paternal granddaughters who died on average far earlier.

Pembry adds:

“…we were dealing with a trans-generational response. [The results] were so coherent, and that’s important in science. The effect was coherent in some way—was tying in when eggs and sperm were being formed.”

NOVA states:

The diagram [the results Pembry is talking about] showed a significant link between generations, between the diet in one, and the life expectancy of another.

Questions remain of course: why does the situation appear to only effect the paternal line of inheritance? And why does famine appear to be damaging and/or beneficial, two generations later, depending on the sex and age of the grandparent who experiences a given environmental condition?

Either way, Pembry says:

“We’re changing the view of what inheritance is. You can’t in life, in ordinary development and living, separate out the gene out from the environmental effect. They’re so intertwined.”

But are these effects truly epigenetic? Michael Skinner (in research with rats), says:

“We knew that if an individual was exposed to an environmental toxin, they can get a disease state, potentially. The new phenomena is the environmental toxin no longer effects only the individual exposed, but two or three generations down the line.

I thought this effect was evident already from Hiroshima and even Vietnam post-war descendants. In Vietnam, birth defects appear to be from exposure to Agent Orange, brought to you by that wonderful producer of nutritious food for a healthy future for our kids, Monsanto. If only the company leadership had a conscience! They could do such beautiful things.

I just don’t think companies like this or Philip Morris (cigarettes) should have power in the world’s food supply, but they have massive power (ie market share). That is a deep, deep perversion.

What a world.

I’m also reading Survival of the Sickest, which is equally interesting, and talks about how certain diseases that kill us now, diabetes for example, may have been, in a sense, adaptive and necessary for survival under certain environmental conditions (say, a quick Ice Age!) at some time in the relatively recent past.

Man, we are the past and the future.

Love to you and your ancestors and descendents, may the live with dignity and beauty,



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