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Epigenetics: Grandma’s smoking associated with autism?

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From ScienceDaily:

Scientists have looked at all 14,500 participants in Children of the 90s and found that if a girl’s maternal grandmother smoked during pregnancy, the girl is 67 percent more likely to display certain traits linked to autism, such as poor social communication skills and repetitive behaviors.

The discovery, published today in Scientific Reports, is part of an ongoing, long-term study of the effects of maternal and paternal grandmother’s smoking in pregnancy on the development of their grandchildren, who are all part of Children of the 90s. By using detailed information collected over many years on multiple factors that may affect children’s health and development, the researchers were able to rule out other potential explanations for their results.

The incidence of ASD has increased in recent years, and while some of this increase is undoubtedly down to improved diagnosis, changes in environment or lifestyle are also likely to play a role. The researchers also stress that many different factors, including genetic variation, are believed to affect an individual’s chances of developing ASD. Paper. (public access) – Golding, J. et al. Grandmaternal smoking in pregnancy and grandchild’s autistic traits and diagnosed autism. Scientific Reports, 2017 DOI: 10.1038/srep46179 More.

Here’s where we really, really need replication studies. Public policy, good or bad, useful or harmful, can flow from findings that end up failing replication. Autism is a special risk for this problem because it’s devastating but the causes are hard to pin down. It’s human nature to prefer an answer to a non-answer, so groupthink gives us answers to go forward, irrespective of their relationship to the fact base. On the bright side, at least we aren’t hunting the witch responsible, as used to happen at times.

See also: Epigenetics: Worms passed on environment memories 14 generations


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

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