#1 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, November 18th, 2013 09:47
#2 By: Torn Paper Napkin, November 18th, 2013 09:54
Epigenetics, continuing to suggest that I'm just hella fucked.
#3 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, November 18th, 2013 09:55
Methylation is a hell of a drug.
#4 By: Mister44, November 18th, 2013 10:16
I think epigentics is amazing. Didn't they have an experiment with rats and were able to turn on and off whether they were fat or not? So this probably explains the passing down of instincts?
#5 By: Chris Reeve, November 18th, 2013 10:21
This is not the only unusual thing going on in the world of genetics. Maggie, you might want to also start keeping tabs on the phenomenon known as the "Primeval Code". Much of the information on it is in German -- including the one book which is dedicated to the subject -- but there is this very brief summary here …
In laboratory experiments the researchers there Dr. Guido Ebner and Heinz Schürch exposed cereal seeds and fish eggs to an "electrostatic field" – in other words, to a high voltage field, in which no current flows.
Unexpectedly primeval organisms grew out of these seeds and eggs: a fern that no botanist was able to identify; primeval corn with up to twelve ears per stalk; wheat that was ready to be harvested in just four to six weeks. And giant trout, extinct in Europe for 130 years, with so-called salmon hooks.
Although we wouldn't know it from the science reporting which dominates today, this is actually turning out to be a very well-established observation. It has been repeated in laboratories all over the world.
Investigation of the Effects of Electrostatic and Magnetostatic Treatment on Plants Growths and Their Genetic Composition
Electro-culture is a practice of exposing plants to strong electric fields and electric currents in order to stimulate growth. Despite some controversy and the initial erratic results the beneficial effects of electric fields on plants is now generally accepted
These findings raise questions. First, what does it mean for a species to go "extinct"? These findings suggest that we may have to modify our definition. Also, the suggestion in that paper there as to why this occurs -- so that plants can anticipate a thunderstorm -- fails to acknowledge the other explanation: That there was a time on this planet when the electric field was dramatically different, and that the genetics encoded it because it coincided with a period of time which was very hospitable to those former species ...
#6 By: MadBenny, November 18th, 2013 11:01
Epigenetics is just a new name for lamarckianism. And guess what? it's been disproved.
Maybe the tests on the mice are borked because what they were trying to feed these baby mice really was truly offensive. Certainly these 'scientists', don't mind feeding us their drivel.
#7 By: SamSam, November 18th, 2013 11:27
Um... I don't even know where to begin. Epigenetics has certainly not been "disproved." There are a great number of studies showing that the activation or deactivation of certain genes can be passed down to offspring.
Maybe a primer would help you? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics
Some of the more outlandish claims don't end up holding water after deeper scrutiny, but the field as a whole is still very, very much alive. The stuff that is being discovered is amazing -- it shows how much more incredible DNA is than the simple Mendelian stuff we knew 20 years ago.
#8 By: SamSam, November 18th, 2013 11:30
I would this with a very high dose of skepticism...
Miracle seeds produced over a decade ago that everyone mysteriously stopped working on because they were too good and would destroy the fertilizer industry? And wheat that was harvestable after four weeks instead of seven months, and no one has ever heard of this except a few Germans?
It sounds like great material for a thriller, but you have to ask why this isn't in any peer-reviewed journals. Is the fertilizer industry even more all-powerful and secret than the oil industry?
Edit: I forgot: you don't have a very high regard for peer-review, do you? So that argument is out. Well, then, all I can say is that believing in ideas like this just requires so much more belief. Belief that seeds have this miraculous property that no one else has ever replicated; that scientists are being forced to keep quiet about something that would feed billions of people; that no one has managed to smuggle this idea to other countries and use it etc, etc etc. It requires conspiracies in every government and every university in the world. How is that easier to believe than the notion that these people are wrong (or frauds)?
#9 By: Ryan Kirkbride, November 18th, 2013 11:34
Genome regulation is cool and complex, and epigenomics is a huge and exciting part of that. I just hope that it doesn't become the biological equivalent of "quantum mechanics" in pop culture: a catchall justification for any pseudoscientific drek out there.
#10 By: Mellivora Capensis, November 18th, 2013 11:41
If Toxoplasma gondii can do the reverse, it doesn't seem too far-fetched that an epigenetic effect could change rat's behavior around certain smells.
Still moderately far-fetched, of course.
#11 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, November 18th, 2013 11:44
Are you joking? Lamarkian heredity is, indeed, largely dead and buried. However, in the time since Darwin (brilliant guy, reading recommended), we've continued to look at those heritable factors that he was only able to posit the existence of.
And, unshockingly enough, complex chemistry is complex, and what we've learned by looking at the situation with (some) knowledge of the heritable factors, what they are, and how they work, turns out to be more complex than the behavior that caused Darwin to posit their existence in the first place.
Gene flow: Not always neatly down the family tree, thanks to viruses, plasmids, and other oddball stuff.
Gene regulation: Whole huge can of worms there...
Methylation: Happens all the time, and you can use any of a number of methylating reagents to see what happens in cases where it doesn't naturally occur (just try not to methylate any grad students, some of those agents are pretty feisty).
#12 By: Ibrahim, November 18th, 2013 11:50
Makes sense in a way. Just spit-balling here, obviously, but I could see evolution developing a mechanism that would pass on valuable fear-responses to offspring. Why not? Granted the finding is startling, but I would definitely be interested to see where it goes.
My personal experience with PTSD has taught me that there is no end to the surprises it has in store. YEARS later, I find myself doing crap that makes no sense, until I remember that the response made sense in another circumstance that I've largely outgrown. It affects my dreams, my sleep habits, my brain chemistry... it's not just the genes I was born with- that much is very clear.
#13 By: miasm, November 18th, 2013 12:43
I am 12 and what is this?
#15 By: wysinwyg, November 18th, 2013 13:49
Genetics without the "epi" could also explain the passing down of instincts. So far, epigenetics seems only to apply to a few effects that affect one or two generations at most.
#16 By: Chris Reeve, November 18th, 2013 14:06
It's not that peer review is useless. Those of us who have looked into peer review are simply aware of its problems. The rest of you would appear to prefer to treat this very critical process on faith alone.
'If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,' says Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the Journal Of the American Medical Association and intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989. Peer review would not get onto the market because we have no convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws.
Yet, to my continuing surprise, almost no scientists know anything about the evidence on peer review. It is a process that is central to science - deciding which grant proposals will be funded, which papers will be published, who will be promoted, and who will receive a Nobel prize. We might thus expect that scientists, people who are trained to believe nothing until presented with evidence, would want to know all the evidence available on this important process. Yet not only do scientists know little about the evidence on peer review but most continue to believe in peer review, thinking it essential for the progress of science. Ironically, a faith based rather than an evidence based process lies at the heart of science.
Jeff Schmidt has also written about peer review in his book, Disciplined Minds. And he points out the following …
The much-touted "peer review" process does not usurp the power of the program directors to serve agency goals. Peer review is the process in which an agency asks outside scientists to give their opinions on the scientific feasibility of proposed research; the screening by outsiders leaves the agency with a long list of feasible projects from which it chooses those that best further its goals. Peer review does not reduce the program directors to nonprofessional poll takers: The program directors select the reviewers, decide whose advice to follow in light of the goals of the programs they manage, and monitor the work of the scientists they fund. The program directors are the gatekeepers at the money bin and therefore loom as important figures for researchers, who if not worried about getting a grant, are worried about renewing one. Physicists hoping for National Science Foundation support, for example, are told that
while the advice of all reviewers is taken quite seriously, the final decision for funding is made by the Director and Staff of the Physics Division. (p64)
It's also worth noting that peer review is widely recognized to not be particularly effective at identifying new ideas that are particularly innovative. Many now-accepted theories were originally rejected by peer reviewers. People who seek to glorify this process are actually looking for quick fixes for problems which are in fact philosophical in nature. The problem of unconceived alternatives, for instance, is a philosophical problem which peer review can never fully address.
#17 By: Charlie, November 18th, 2013 14:34
Me and Lamarck are going to have the last laugh.
I'm glad people don't take Darwin as literally as they insist on taking Lamarck, always demanding that any single mistake means all his ideas must be rejected out of hand.
Now that we know that a fully adult organism's DNA can be modified, is it still so terribly heretical to suggest the these changes might be passed on under some circumstances?
#18 By: wysinwyg, November 18th, 2013 14:52
It's not at all heretical -- it's well-supported by research that epigenetic mechanisms can produce effects in the next generation or two.
However, it is not entirely correct to say that "a fully adult organism's DNA can be modified." It's perfectly possible (in fact, inevitable) for the DNA in particular cells of a fully adult organism to be modified. This is how cancer happens. However, to consistently revise the DNA in every cell of an adult organism would be an effectively impossible event (it's astronomically improbable). But then, epigenetics doesn't have to do directly with the genes encoded in the DNA (which for most cells in a fully adult organism will not change appreciably) but rather with the factors controlling gene expression. As noted above, research suggests that epigenetic factors can be passed down a generation or two.
#19 By: wysinwyg, November 18th, 2013 14:57
Peer review is a filtering process. No one expects it to generate new ideas. People expect it to filter out unsupported ideas. That's why when people using evidence-based reasoning are presented with hypotheses like the one you present above they want to see it supported by peer reviewed research before they buy into it.
It's not perfect but it's better than credulously swallowing every bit of fringe science that ends up on the internet.
#20 By: Tom Leo, November 18th, 2013 14:57
This kind of fits in with Carl Jung's theory of why we fear of snakes, if I remember correctly from college intro to psychology class.
#21 By: Jardine, November 18th, 2013 15:06
And for good reason.
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