Epigenetics

Could epigenetics change perspectives on adoption?

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Further to two stories that just whistled past, Epigenetics: Altering ant behavior and Epigenetics: Mouse diet affects sperm RNA, a thought occurred to me: For many years, I’ve seen and heard people who were raised by adoptive parents obsessing about their “real” parents.

They seem to believe that their DNA parents conferred on them a magic key of same kind, and they must find it in order to even know who they really are.

Is that true? Why isn’t what they have been doing most of their life who they really are?

Unless one has some basis for actively rejecting everything one has learned growing up, most likely, one’s “real” parents are whoever has acted as a parent over the years, for better or worse.

I remember one adoptive mother, taunted by a rebellious teenager who wanted to find her “real” mother, taking the girl by the shoulders and saying, “Look, I raised you from when you were seven days old; I supported you, sat with you in emergency rooms and juvenile court, laughed and cried with you, … and got you into a good school in the end. I don’t know who or where your birth mother is. But I do know this: I am the only ‘real mother’ you have ever had or ever will have. Look at me. Get used to it. It doesn’t GET better than this.”

I hope the kid smartened up. Meanwhile what if she discovers, when she has children, that their genome reflects in part traits she acquired growing up in the adoptive home? Maybe that would allay some of the sense of alienation.

Might epigenetics could provide some basis for understanding? Time will tell.

See also: Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

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6 Replies to “Could epigenetics change perspectives on adoption?

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    I don’t think epigenetics would change views on adoption because in many cases epigenetics still involves traits inherited from the parents.

    But I think the fascination with biological parents is influenced by belief in materialism. If you believe that you are ultimately a spiritual being, that you were so before you were born and will be after the body dies, and that you are here to have experiences in the physical world, then your biological parents are much less significant than the parents who raise you. In that case, the container, the body, doesn’t define who and what you are, it is only a minor, temporary, factor. From a spiritual point of view, the parents who raise you are your real parents more so than your biological parents are.

  2. 2
    wd400 says:

    when she has children, that their genome reflects in part traits she acquired growing up in the adoptive home?

    If “epigenetic” still means anything then epigenetic effecs are not part of someone’s genome. That’s pretty much what the word means. We hardly needed to know abotu methyl-groups and histone states to know that upbringing influences us, so I’m really not sure what epigenetics has to do with it.

    As long as we inherit things from our biological parents (we do, btw) then I suspect some adoptees will want to find their parents.

  3. 3
    News says:

    Jim Smith at 1 and wd400 at 2: “Meanwhile what if she discovers, when she has children, that their genome reflects in part traits she acquired growing up in the adoptive home? Maybe that would allay some of the sense of alienation.”

    Her own genes might be changed by her upbringing in terms of methylation, might they not? If some of them were discovered to be passed on in that position, it might loosen the grip of a genetic “fallacy” on some adoptive children’s part: That they “really” belong somewhere else because they have “different genes.”

    Maybe genes aren’t chiselled in stone, as such a belief about oneself seems to imply.

  4. 4
    wd400 says:

    It’s unlikely that a trait the affected the mother could be passed on epigeneitcally — germline:soma split and all that. Even if they did pass on a methyl-tag they’d pass on the same genome (the totality of genomic sequences), and if the trait is so labile that it’s responsive to the environment it might very well flip back in the next generation, no?

    Again, I really can’t see it making much difference.

  5. 5
    Ken_M says:

    Epigenic expressions are still dependent on the genes, which are inherited from the biological parents, not the adoptive ones.

    My mother was adopted and didn’t meet her biological sister until she was twenty. She had far more in common with her biological sister (looks, obviously, but also mannerisms and personality) than her adoptive sister. Which is to take nothing away from her adoptive family.

    If I adopted a child, I would want them to know as much as possible about their biological parents. If for no other reason than medical history.

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    ‘From a spiritual point of view, the parents who raise you are your real parents more so than your biological parents are.’

    Adoption often reminds me of Jesus’ words :

    ‘But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50″For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”‘

    It’s surely a much bigger tragedy to have been only a nominal parent or spouse than the victim of their dereliction. Although I know there were and perhaps still are mitigating circumstances for giving a child up for adoption ; mostly, I expect, extreme poverty.

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