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Epigenetics: How Our Experiences Affect Our Offspring
The Week Magazine ^ | 1-20-2013 | The Week Staff

Posted on 02/04/2013 1:10:36 PM PST by blam

Epigenetics: How Our Experiences Affect Our Offspring

New research suggests that people's experiences, not just their genes, can affect the biological legacy of their offspring

By The Week Staff
January 20, 2013

Isn't our genetic legacy hardwired?

From Mendel and Darwin in the 19th century to Watson and Crick in the 20th, scientists have shown that chromosomes passed from parent to child form a genetic blueprint for development. But in a quiet scientific revolution, researchers have in recent years come to realize that genes aren't a fixed, predetermined program simply passed from one generation to the next. Instead, genes can be turned on and off by experiences and environment. What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we're exposed to can all alter the genetic legacy we pass on to our children and even grandchildren. In this new science of "epigenetics," researchers are exploring how nature and nurture combine to cause behavior, traits, and illnesses that genes alone can't explain, ranging from sexual orientation to autism to cancer. "We were all brought up to think the genome was it," said Rockefeller University molecular biologist C. David Allis. "It's really been a watershed in understanding that there is something beyond the genome."

What is epigenetics?

The word literally means "on top of genetics," and it's the study of how individual genes can be activated or deactivated by life experiences. Each one of our cells, from skin cells to neurons, contains an identical DNA blueprint, yet they perform vastly different functions. That's because epigenetic "tags" block developing fetal cells from following any genetic instructions that don't pertain to their intended roles. That biochemical process, scientists have discovered, occurs not just during gestation and early development but throughout adulthood, switching genes on or off and altering our mental and physical health.

How does that affect who we are?

We're only beginning to find out. A woman's diet during pregnancy seems to have a major impact on her baby's epigenetic tags. Prenatal diets that are low in folic acid, vitamin B-12, and other nutrients containing "methyl groups" — a set of molecules that can tag genes and cause epigenetic changes — have been linked to an increased risk of asthma and brain and spinal cord defects in children. Stress, too, can alter fetal epigenetic tags. Pregnant women who were traumatized at the World Trade Center on 9/11 were far more likely than other women to give birth to infants who reacted with unusual levels of fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people, or new foods.

Can changes occur later in life?

Absolutely. Young children who are abused are more likely to have epigenetic changes that make coping with stress more difficult. Twins may inherit a gene that predisposes them to cancer, but only one will develop the disease because diet, toxins, or smoking turn on that gene, while the other has different habits and goes cancer-free. "We're not completely at the mercy of our genes," writes health journalist Alice G. Walton. "In many ways, they are at the mercy of our health and lifestyle decisions and habits."

Are epigenetic changes hereditary?

To the consternation of strict Darwinists, they can be. Researchers used to think that when a sperm and egg combined, all their epigenetic tags were erased, leaving the resulting embryo with a clean slate. Now they know that about 1 percent of our epigenetic tags escape erasure and pass directly to our offspring — and potentially their offspring and beyond. Scientists have discovered, for instance, that a group of children conceived during the Netherlands' desperate wartime famine of 1944–45 tended themselves to have smaller-than-usual offspring. That suggests that what men and women eat and smoke, and what toxins and traumas they're exposed to, can affect their children and even grandchildren. University of Texas zoologist David Crews has done multigenerational studies with rats that led him to speculate that soaring obesity and autism rates could be due to our grandparents' exposure to "the chemical revolution of the 1940s," including the introduction of new plastics, fertilizers, detergents, and pesticides.

Are these insights yielding medical therapies?

Over the past five years, evidence that epigenetics plays a major role in cancer has become "absolutely rock solid," says Robert A. Weinberg, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Andrew Feinberg, director of Johns Hopkins University's Epigenetics Center, thinks it's a factor in autism and diabetes as well. Drugs are in the works aimed at undoing cancerous epigenetic changes. Even eating foods rich in gene-altering methyl groups — such as soybeans, red grapes, and green tea — might protect against disease by silencing detrimental genes. In one famous experiment, researchers fed a methyl-rich diet to pregnant female mice that carried a gene that made them fat, yellow, and prone to cancer and diabetes. Though their offspring carried the same gene, they were born slim, brown, and disease-free. But researchers are still trying to work out how to use this powerful tool to address specific health problems. "Did this change in diet increase cancer risk?" asks McGill University pharmacologist Moshe Szyf. "Did it increase depression? Did it increase dementia or Alzheimer's? We don't know yet, and it will take some time to sort it out."

Darwin vs. Lamarck

Before Darwin laid out the principles of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, an 18th-century French naturalist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, proposed a very different theory of evolution. Organisms, he thought, could pass on traits they'd acquired over their lifetime. Lamarckism — typified by the (incorrect) idea that giraffes have long necks because they're constantly stretching them to reach high leaves — faced ridicule after Darwinism took hold. At the turn of the 20th century, August Weismann debunked the theory by chopping off the tails of mice to prove that their pups would not inherit their taillessness. But even though "Darwin was 100 percent right" about how creatures evolve, said Swiss bioengineer Renato Paro, epigenetics suggests that the Frenchman may have been on to something after all. "Passing on gained characteristics," he said, "fits more to Lamarck's theory of evolution."


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: dna; epigenetics; gaygene; genes; genetics; godsgravesglyphs; helixmakemineadouble; homosexualagenda; lamarck; naturevsnurture; offspring

1 posted on 02/04/2013 1:10:45 PM PST by blam
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To: blam; SunkenCiv

Pfft. A theory in search of facts.


2 posted on 02/04/2013 1:14:16 PM PST by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: blam
This is a new field of science for me but, I've suspected for some time that something like this may be happening.

Here's a link to a more detailed explanation. I didn't post it because it is from (puke) Time Magazine.

Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny

3 posted on 02/04/2013 1:14:59 PM PST by blam
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To: blam

“Sexual orientation”. There’s the point of the article.


4 posted on 02/04/2013 1:20:59 PM PST by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: blam

If you thought legislation impacting your lifestyle “For The Children” was troublesome, wait until they start using this nonsense to justify laws “for your childrens’ childrens’ children.”


5 posted on 02/04/2013 1:22:01 PM PST by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: blueunicorn6

Didn’t the homosexuals see the movie THE ELEPHANT MAN? That movie made fun of the old belief that people like The Elephant Man were formed because of frightening experiences their mothers had at the circus. Now, they want us to believe that.


6 posted on 02/04/2013 1:23:44 PM PST by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: blam

Great article. I’ve also sensed that there was something to this, could never pretend to explain it though.


7 posted on 02/04/2013 1:29:00 PM PST by mgist
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To: blam

darwin 100% right? more like 1% right 99% wrong.

lamarck at least is proving to be far more right than wrong. i wonder now, after having been indoctrinated early and often about his being darwin’s favorite whipping boy and fool, about his faith. since his insight was so much deeper, i wonder if he was also another devoutly Christian philosopher. i’ll have to look into it sometime.

finally who is really being proved right by all of this?

that would be our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


8 posted on 02/04/2013 1:39:31 PM PST by dadfly
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


9 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:15 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


10 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:28 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


11 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:28 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


12 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:38 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


13 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:58 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


14 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:58 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


15 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:58 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blam

Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation. Cutting off the tails of baby mice - how creepy, like pulling the wings off flies or poking out a person’s eyes does not disprove Lamarck’s theory of why giraffes have long necks.


16 posted on 02/04/2013 3:15:59 PM PST by kabumpo (Kabumpo)
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To: blueunicorn6

I don’t have the reference, but I once read a study where pregnant female rats were exposed to marijuana smoke. An abnormal percentage of their male offspring showed no sexual interest in females, only males.

That could explain a lot if it were replicated in humans.


17 posted on 02/04/2013 3:39:55 PM PST by darth
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To: blueunicorn6

I don’t have the reference, but I once read a study where pregnant female rats were exposed to marijuana smoke. An abnormal percentage of their male offspring showed no sexual interest in females, only males.

That could explain a lot if it were replicated in humans.


18 posted on 02/04/2013 3:40:14 PM PST by darth
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To: blam
Doubt if there is much in this. I personally knew well two pairs of identical twins. There's genetics, mother's and Dad's diets, their behaviors, etc that are taken out of the equation.

In both cases, each person was distinctly different. The differences in their lives were consequences of choices, not what their parents ate or did.

Too bad they did not marry identical twin sisters. That would have been a hoot to track, eh?

People are not mice. Humans have a spiritual dimension, and that is the usual defining factor in life outcomes. IMHO.

19 posted on 02/04/2013 5:10:20 PM PST by imardmd1 (Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul. Ps 66:16)
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To: martin_fierro; blam

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks blam and martin.

A.K.A. Lamarckism.

Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


20 posted on 02/04/2013 7:05:32 PM PST by SunkenCiv (Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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To: SunkenCiv
This article may be more about Lysenko than Lamarck.

It sounds suspiciously like the Official Science of the Soviet Union of the 20s and 30s.

21 posted on 02/04/2013 8:13:05 PM PST by Kenny Bunk (The Obama Absolution Molecule: Teflon binds with Melanin = No-Fault Marxism.)
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To: blam

Epigenetics: An evaluation of the effects of epigenetics on homosexuality.

http://www.mygenes.co.nz/epigenetics.htm


22 posted on 02/05/2013 6:11:39 AM PST by massmike (At least no one is wearing a "Ron Paul - 2016" tee shirt........yet!)
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To: kabumpo; SunkenCiv
Typical misrepresentation of Lamarck. He said that acquired characteristics came in response to necessary adaptation, not in response to random mutilation.

Lamarck was much more right than Darwin on this point, IMHO.

My high school biology text, which essentially taught that modern science knew everything there was to know about the subject, actually had a graphic ridiculing Lamarck in comparison to Darwin just to prove how much smarter modern science is. Of course, when I was in high school people still thought Silent Spring was something other than junk science.

23 posted on 02/05/2013 1:52:22 PM PST by colorado tanker
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To: colorado tanker

Lamarck’s idea (which like Darwin’s antedated discovery of chromosomes, genes, DNA) was that creatures’ characteristics change due to interaction with the environment, and are then passed to the offspring. That’s not a “typical misrepresentation of Lamarck”, that’s exactly his view.

It’s interesting that the “what the definition of is is” semantic techniques often come into play when the “selection pressure” model within modern Darwinism (and it’s in the original, when Darwin talks about how a species of bear might start living in the sea, and generation by generation become marine and grow into “something as monstrous as a whale”) is used to “explain” something. Natural selection can, at best, lead to extinction.

The way Darwinism is synopsized now is, mutations arise at random, most of which are neutral, some of which are fatal, but a few of which give an advantage to those which have it. The fact is, evolution is really just ‘mutations arise at random’. That’s it. There is literally no role for “natural selection”.


24 posted on 02/05/2013 5:51:44 PM PST by SunkenCiv (Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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