Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

changing our genes

There is a fascinating article in The Economist called Silencing of the Lambs.  Scientists have learned that abuse in childhood can change the way genes work.  The field is known as epigenetics, so new my spell check underlines it in red.  This is the study of "the interface between our genes, which are fixed, and our environment, which is ever-changing.  Although people are born with a complement of genes that they are stuck with for life, those genes can be switched on and off - and this can make a world of difference.  All the more harrowing, then, what simple things like dietary supplements  and stress have been shown capable of throwing the switch."

Maternal neglect in rats, lack of attention, chemically altered a gene controlling an important stress hormone.  In studying those who committed suicide, they learned there, too, something had been switched off in their brains, something related to mood, and scientists are determining this is a response to childhood abuse.  I don't know that it is good to generalize, but I do see that some I know who feel they have an unnatural response to stress and a too-sudden reaction of feeling attacked were abused as children.  It is an interesting to consider.  Now, they are trying to figure out how to turn the gene back on.   They are hoping that if hypermethylation is caused by childhood abuse and can be detected in blood samples, that they can reverse it with social interventions, nutrition, and/or drugs.  I think of Rosen work now.   We say it works at the cellular level.  I think it may be a huge tool.

I am reading, at Joan's suggestion, Earthdance, Living Systems in Evolution, by Elisabet Sahtouris.

I was just going to quote from it when my husband walked upstairs, having read my male-female comment saying in a high voice, "There's a rat in the house."  It is true that he is the one usually called on to deal with dead rats that are in the house, offered as gifts from our cats.    I still live in some sexual stereotypes.  I must also say that I have shoveled many a rat into the trash or buried it in the yard or set it out for the crows who are quick to respond.  I admit that Steve is very gentlemanly about dealing with the our rat cat gifts when he is around.

Steve also says he was simply implying that women sometimes like to do their own thing which is true, just like men.   All is well with our sexual roles, as they do and do not exist.  

Okay, back to Earthdance.

    "We can easily see with modern microscopes that bacteria DNA is a very long complex molecule formed into a loose loop inside the tiny creature.  We can also see that bacteria come very close to one another and then dissolve parts of their cell walls long enough to create a hole through which they exchange bits of DNA.  One or both of them leaves this encounter with a new combination of DNA from the two though no reproduction has taken place.

    This information exchange, or communication system, of ancient (and modern) bacteria is at least as remarkable as any of their other inventions and no doubt is what made the rest of their innovations possible. We are just beginning to learn how it works and to recognize it is original sex! - something we thought had been invented much later in evolution.

    Sex is by definition the production of creatures by a combination of DNA from more than one individual. Every time bacteria receive bits of DNA called genes from others, they are engaging in sex by making themselves the product of two bacterial sources even though they are not reproducing. This sexual communication system apparently belongs to virtually all bacteria of all strains, so that bacteria can - and do - trade their DNA genes with one another all over the Earth to this day!"

    Well, surely you see it coming.  The words continue.

    "Thus these tiny ancient beings actually created the first WorldWideWeb of information exchange, trading genes as we trade our own messages from computer to computer around the world.  We have speeded up their web by carrying them around the world on our ships and airplanes, to make contact in far places they might not have reached by wind and waters so quickly."

    So, there is something to contemplate.  I am over to the East Bay for a day and night of revelry and celebration and spreading the bacterial web.


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