Says Discover mag:
Geneticists were especially surprised to find that epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next. A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene.
Now, at the bar in Madrid, Szyf and Meaney considered a hypothesis as improbable as it was profound: If diet and chemicals can cause epigenetic changes, could certain experiences — child neglect, drug abuse or other severe stresses — also set off epigenetic changes to the DNA inside the neurons of a person’s brain? That question turned out to be the basis of a new field, behavioral epigenetics, now so vibrant it has spawned dozens of studies and suggested profound new treatments to heal the brain.
Some of it is sure to be pseuds and nonsense, but if the rest holds up…
Here is a simple way of understanding epigenetics: The useless conflict between “environment” and “genes” is based on a simple assumption: Genes are marbles. You got or not. No.
But what if genes can be affected in the lifetime of the individual and inherited in that state? That is what Lamarckists (non-Darwinists believed), and were mercilessly ridiculed for by Darwin’s followers for decades.
If true, as increasing evidence suggests it is, it changes the whole picture re human inheritance. Here are a couple of examples:
1. Nicholas Wade’s Darwinian race theories are irrelevant. The question isn’t whether certain characteristics show up more in one group or another, but why do they? Does it make a difference, for example, if you belong to a culture where, for a number of generations, people who asked questions were mercilessly beaten by an oppressive authority? Modern Darwinists say no, but epigenetics (along with Lamarck) would say, let’s see. Certainly, if we are unsure of the answer, we had better hold off on making judgments.
2. There is constant ferment in society about the effect of trauma on individuals, but mostly it is unquantified and unquantifiable, which leads to plenty of tear-jerkers, but not much real help. What if we could explicitly identify genetic damage (Michael Behe’s iconic question, “How, exactly?”)? Well, at that point, we have a problem for which we can seek a solution. Instead of just seeking an audience, a political platform, or whatever.
This could get interesting!
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2 Replies to “Epigenetics: Grandma’s experiences mark your genes?”
I have always had a personal belief that Lamarkian type mechanisms are a significant part of life, and more and more my beliefs have become more realized.
But aside from the many doubts about Darwinian evolution that genetics exposes, just the existence of an organized epigentic system at all, even if it didn’t cause Lamarkian inheritance, blows apart Darwin. How can you have hox genes and a system of development by accidents?
The whole idea makes irreducible complexity a distance second in problems evolution must explain. A system which tells genes when and where to express themselves during gestation? What kind of just so story can you make up for that??
Moreover, this “system” is capable of integrating multiple sets of DNA – see chimerism.