“HMMM…”: DNA BANKS AND EPIGENETIC MEMORY
If you're new here, one thing you quickly learn about this website is that we Gizars love to make connections and indulge in "high octane speculation," and today is a classic case in point. And if you're new here, the other thing you'll also learn is that the blogs that appear on this site are to some extent "community driven" from the articles that people share. Because of that, every now and then people share articles which, while not becoming the subject of the blog, relate to other articles, and it's that link - howsoever tenuous - that becomes the subject of the blog. And that's the case today when Mr. V. T. sent along this article:
...and Mr. J.B. sent along this article from phys.org:
Over the years I've speculated that there were hidden reasons for the human genome project, and one of my main "high octane speculations" has been that "they" are looking for "something," and that "something" has ranged the whole spectrum, from DNA confirmations of "ancient dynastic bloodlines" to a potential search to find any "genetic cousins" who may be living among us, i.e., for persons who look, walk, and act human, but whose DNA might be indicative of "same genus, different species." It would be, I have argued, a logical thing to do if one were in such a position of power, and if one took certain passages of the Old Testament or ancient Mesopotamian lore seriously, and looked at them with "scientific" spectacles. And it's that context which made these two articles catch my eye.
From the first article, there is this:
DNA researchers are making a big prediction. In just a few years, they'll have enough DNA samples to match every person in the country. That's even if you've never taken one of those ancestry DNA tests.
This is all thanks to those ancestry test kits. If someone’s relative takes the test, enough information is provided for scientists to link to you.
"Yes, eventually everyone's going to be traceable through DNA," says Itsik Pe’er, an associate professor at Columbia University.
It also means solving crimes could get a lot easier. Police have already started taking DNA from unknown suspects and comparing it to DNA databases.
That information can lead to a match to a suspect’s relative.
"People want to connect to their long-lost second, third, fourth cousins and find those matches,” says Pe’er. “The flip side of that is that, yeah, investigators can find those matches due to DNA that have been sitting in these warehouses for decades."
Now, in a world where cloning is already happening, and human cloning is just around the corner (if indeed it has not already secretly happened), this raises some intriguing high octane speculations of its own, not the least of which is Ira Levin's Boys from Brazil scenario: with enough data, one might be able to genetically engineer almost anyone from "scratch" so to speak, including perhaps individuals from the past, given a sample of their DNA, or - as this article points out - enough DNA of an individual's close relatives. Of course, before we crawl right off the end of the twig, it's also worth recalling that in Levin's famous novel, the mad doctor Mengele's efforts to clone Adolf Hitler back into existence backfire, as one of the young Adolfs turns out not to be too interested in world domination and mass murder. The lesson is a restatement of St John of Damascus' prescient warning: person and nature are not the same thing. Identical twins - or clones - may have the same or nearly identical DNA, but are still different persons.
But that lesson takes us immediately to the second article, and this intriguing observation:
Studies of human populations and animal models suggest that a father's experiences such as diet or environmental stress can influence the health and development of his descendants. How these effects are transmitted across generations, however, remains mysterious.
Susan Strome's lab at UC Santa Cruz has been making steady progress in unraveling the mechanisms behind this phenomenon, using a tiny roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans to show how marks on chromosomes that affect gene expression, called "epigenetic" marks, can be transmitted from parents to offspring. Her team's most recent paper, published October 17 in Nature Communications, focuses on transmission of epigenetic marks by C. elegans sperm.
In addition to documenting the transmission of epigenetic memory by sperm, the new study shows that the epigenetic information delivered by sperm to the embryo is both necessary and sufficient to guide proper development of germ cells in the offspring (germ cells give rise to eggs and sperm).
Epigenetic changes do not alter the DNA sequences of genes, but instead involve chemical modifications to either the DNA itself or the histone proteins with which DNA is packaged in the chromosomes. These modifications influence gene expression, turning genes on or off in different cells and at different stages of development. The idea that epigenetic modifications can cause changes in gene expression that are transmitted from one generation to the next, known as "transgenerational epigenetic inheritance," is now the focus of intense scientific investigation.
This may require some unpacking. In the past decade or so, it has become increasingly evident to geneticists that the "genetic code" in and of itself does not contain "all the information" to create some individual organism. There was something "beyond" or "above" that code - hence the term "epigenetic" - acting as a kind of information field that also played a role, and that this left its traces on how the purely material and chemical interactions of individual DNA expressed itself. And apparently that is manifest or transmitted paternally. Needless to say, this casts an entirely different light on my speculations that "they" might be "looking for something", for evidently, they are looking for a precise understanding of this epigenetic memory and its transmission. That memory is nothing less than how DNA responds to its environment, including such non-material factors such as "stress."
So let's collectively crawl out to the end of the twig once again, and speculate. Suppose that they discover through much experiment how to reproduce those environmental factors and to recreate a specific epigenetic memory. Once again, Ira Levin's Boys from Brazil scenario comes to mind, for again, his fictional mad doctor Mengele trying to clone Adolf Hitler did not stop with the merely physical cloning of the Fuehrer's DNA. Levin's Mengele also sought to recreate the environment in which Hitler grew up: doting mothers spoiling their sons, a lower-middle class managerial type father given to manifestations of brutality and drunken fits of rage, and so on.
All of which might be an indicator that, indeed, "they" might be "looking" for "something," or perhaps better put, for "someone."
See you on the flip side...
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