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Epigenetics: The carnies have caught up

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Unfortunately. Had to happen though.

While I (O’Leary for News) was preparing a post on the significance of evolution via epigenetics—changes within parents’ genes in their own lifetime are passed on to offspring— this ScienceBlogs item whistled past the desk and crashed into the Later pile.

Well, later is now:

For those not familiar with biology, epigenetics is a new branch of genetics that describes cellular and physiologic trait variations that are not caused by changes in DNA sequence. Rather, epigenetics describes traits that are due to changes in the expression of genes; these changes may or may not be heritable. Common epigenetic processes include the methylation of DNA (a chemical modification that attaches methyl groups), a method of silencing genes or histone modification. Histones are the proteins around which the DNA is wrapped to form chromosomes and how “tightly” parts of the DNA are wrapped around histones can make certain stretches of DNA available to the transcriptional machinery of the cell and others unavailable.

o far so good.

But apparently, some are trying to use epigenetics for contraception, on the theory that

… thinking makes it so (i.e., that you can modify your gene expression consciously by influencing your own epigenetics) or that you can radically change your gene expression through thought, diet, exercise, and a host of other things, all to make yourself virtually immune to disease.

Or pregnancy, one source claims.

At this desk, it doesn’t sound like epigenetics or contraception. But we’ll doubtless see stranger claims yet before epigenetics make a home in responsible public awareness.

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

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2 Replies to “Epigenetics: The carnies have caught up

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    There is no doubt, IMO, that the brain and the environment influence gene expression and inheritable traits. Even brainless trees can have one genetic signature at the top and another at the bottom. In the case of humans, this is known from studying identical twins who grew up in different environments. I can’t remember where I read this but, apparently, an educated twin looks markedly different than his/her less educated twin.

    And come to think of it, the placebo effect is a strong indication that the brain can influence the body. I think medical research has a lot to learn from studying the placebo effect. It’s nothing magical or unexplainable.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Mapou, all that is conceded here.

    BUT women who are trying to avoid pregnancy are working with a system rigged to create it.

    It’s not the time to blindly trust mother nature, especially not in an area we are just beginning to unpack – however wrong it was to neglect it in the past.

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