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Enter, Epigenetics By Brian Simpson
Epigenetics is the study of the effects of environmental factors upon genes. Genes basically produce proteins that are encoded into the body, as the building blocks of life. It was once thought that the central controlling mechanism of the cell, now known as the cell nucleus, did not have its heritability qualities affected by environmental factors. Not so:
“An interesting field of scientific study called epigenetics has found that lifestyle and environment can impact gene expression for a number of successive generations. In fact, a study by researchers from the European Molecular Biology Organization in Spain, published in the journal Science in 2017, found that parental experience is epigenetically imprinted not just on immediate children but on up to 14 successive generations.
This research reinforces the importance of the lifestyle choices we make every day, knowing that these will continue to impact our children and our children’s children for generations to come. Ultimately, nurture is at least as important as nature when it comes to determining the health of successive generations.
For their study, the research team used genetically engineered nematode worms that contain a special transgene that allows them to glow under ultraviolet light in warm temperatures. When kept at temperatures below 20°Celsius (68° Fahrenheit) the worms hardly lit up at all, but as soon as they were moved to an environment warmer than 25°C the fluorescence gene became far more active, making them light up brightly. After spending some time in the warmer environment, the worms were moved back to the cooler temperature to determine the impact on their fluorescence.
Science Alert reported on the results:
Surprisingly, they continued to glow brightly, suggesting they were retaining an ‘environmental memory’ of the warmer climate – and that the transgene was still highly active.
Furthermore, that memory was passed on to their offspring for seven brightly-glowing generations, none of whom had experienced the warmer temperatures. The baby worms inherited this epigenetic change through both eggs and sperm.
The team pushed the results even further – when they kept five generations of nematodes at 25° C (77° F) and then banished their offspring to colder temperatures, the worms continued to have higher transgene activity for an unprecedented 14 generations.
Adam Klosin, one of the study’s authors, explained that while the team could not be sure why this epigenetic “programming” was handed down through so many generations, it appeared to be some type of “biological forward-planning.”
This is not surprising since other results in epigenetics have been challenging old school gene as the master controller genetics:
“In a study published in the May issue of Nature Reviews Genetics, Eric Richards, Ph.D. proposed that changes such as alternative DNA packaging and small chemical additions to DNA bases that prevent the expression can be passed on and should be considered soft inheritance.
Richards, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, analyzed past studies of epigenetics -- a Greek term meaning "above and beyond the gene" -- and evolution, and found that there is evidence in both the plant and animal kingdoms that supports the notion of soft inheritance.
One of the mechanisms Richards points to is known as DNA methylation, or the chemical modification of the DNA chemical subunit cytosine. Studies have shown that a lack of proper DNA methylation can cause developmental problems in higher organisms, including stunted growth in plants and death in mice.
Richards has also studied epigentics' effect on DNA packaging, noting that DNA that is "loosely wrapped" around proteins is easier to access. This, along with the location of DNA within the nucleus, presents another factor that affects the regulation of gene expression.
Such theories, Richards said, tend to provoke a negative reaction from his peers who remain steeped in outmoded beliefs about DNA.
"Epigenetics as soft inheritance in mammals puts us on a slippery slope that many people don't want to visit," he said.
The reaction was similar for the theories of pre-Darwinian evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who believed that the environment plays an important role in organisms' acquisition of evolutionary characteristics. Shore birds, for example, acquired long legs by constantly trying to stretch their legs and lift themselves out of the water, Lamarck believed. But many of Lamarck's theories are now being shows to be surprisingly correct, decades later.
"When most biologists hear the name Lamarck or the term soft inheritance, the reaction is, 'Oh my God, here we go again,'" Richards said. "But from a molecular biology point of view there is a mechanism to do soft inheritance, and epigenetic inheritance can be construed as a form soft inheritance. That's all I'm saying."
"The really heretical thing to say is that the environment could be pushing the epigenetic information in a direction that is beneficial," he said. "This is the more extreme variation of soft inheritance that raises the hackles."
One such hackle-raising study observed the epigenetic changes in mice hybrids from diet in a field Richards refers to as "nutritional epigenomics." In the study, researchers attempted to affect the DNA methylation of pregnant mice through varying levels of folate and B vitamins.
"The idea was: If you pump these pregnant moms up with these dietary supplements, you might be able to skew the DNA methylation patterns, and thus skew the way the mice come out at the end of the day, and it works,'" Richards said. "In this particular instance that says what you're getting fed in the womb influences your phenotype; physical and physiological attributes."
"These findings are revolutionizing our understanding about the role of nutrition and other environmental factors in human health. What they are showing," added Mike Adams, a holistic nutritionist, "is that your health is certainly not controlled entirely by your genes. Nutrition, it turns out, affects the way your genetic code is expressed. As a result, nutrition and other environmental factors determine your health just as much as your genetic code."
According to a separate study, early grooming and nurturing of rat pups by their mothers affected the methylation of a glucocorticoid receptor gene, found in the hippocampus in the brain. This nurturing apparently activates the glucocorticoid receptor and provides the pups with an enhanced ability to handle stress later on in their lives. Richards said the process appears to be brought on by changes in DNA methylation through changes in DNA packaging.
"These studies do not demonstrate inheritance between generations, but they do show that the early nutritional environment in the mice and early behavioral environment in the rat studies can change the DNA packaging on the genome, and that that is 'remembered' in the cell divisions that make the rest of the organism, " Richards said. "But this is not from one generation to another. No one has shown that yet."
Richards said that more extreme variations of soft inheritance would require that it be proven, one way or another, whether environment can induce an inheritable epigenetic change in an organism.
"Certainly, nobody has shown that an epigenetically induced beneficial or adaptive change has been inherited," Richard admitted, but he pointed out that there was also no reason to discount the idea of epigenetic inheritance.”
A recently published book by palaeontologist Peter Ward, Lamarck’s Revenge, (Bloomsbury, 2018), goes into great detail about the challenge to received genetics.
If there is epigenetic inheritance, or even if the environment alters gene expression in the ways described above, humans are in deep trouble. We have created a toxic planet in terms of polluting chemicals, many of which are already interacting with the human hormonal system. This is going to inevitably lead to a crash in human gene quality, not just mentally, which we are beginning to see, but physically as well. Human extinction could come from this alone.