January 15, 2012

Epigenetics

I have to say that I've never quite gotten the excitement over epigenetics as a revolutionizing nature-nurture debates. This is not to say that the study of epigenetics isn't valuable in and of itself, it just seems to have less implication for the kind of arguments that people really care about than its publicists assume. 

If I say, "Twin studies, adoption studies, and so forth suggest that for a lot of traits, there's roughly a 50-50 breakdown between the effects of heredity and environment, over the last few years," I constantly get told that: "Oh, no, that's so 20th Century. You see, some of the genes are also being affected by the environment."

Me: "Okay, but that still leaves us with the results of twin and adoption studies. So, what it sounds like you are saying is that genes aren't just 50% of the importance, they're something like 75%, but maybe 1/3rd of the genes are influenced by the environment, so we're right back to 50-50, right?. I mean, we have to get back to what the studies report."

For example, here's Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers, writing in literary agent John Brockman's annual January question confab at his Edge.org:
To me, epigenetics is the most monumental explanation to emerge in the social and biological sciences since Darwin proposed his theories of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection. Over 2,500 articles, many scientific meetings, the formation of the San Diego Epigenome Center as well as other institutes, a five-year Epigenomics Program launched in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health, and many other institutions, academic forums and people are now devoted to this new field. Although epigenetics has been defined in several ways, all are based in the central concept that environmental forces can affect gene behavior, either turning genes on or off. ... 
The consequences of epigenetic mechanisms are likely to be phenomenal. Scientists now hypothesize that epigenetic factors play a role in the etiology of many diseases, conditions and human variations—from cancers, to clinical depression and mental illnesses, to human behavioral and cultural variations. 
Take the Moroccan Amazighs or Berbers, people with highly similar genetic profiles who now reside in three different environments: some roam the deserts as nomads; some farm the mountain slopes; some live in the towns and cities along the Moroccan coast. And depending on where they live, up to one-third of their genes are differentially expressed, reports researcher Youssef Idaghdour. 
For example, among the urbanites, some genes in the respiratory system are switched on—perhaps, Idaghdour suggests, to counteract their new vulnerability to asthma and bronchitis in these smoggy surroundings. Idaghdour and his colleague Greg Gibson, propose that epigenetic mechanisms have altered the expression of many genes in these three Berber populations, producing their population differences.
Genes hold the instructions; epigenetic factors direct how those instructions are carried out. And as we age, scientists report, these epigenetic processes continue to modify and build who we are. Fifty-year-old twins, for example, show three times more epigenetic modifications than do three-year-old twins; and twins reared apart show more epigenetic alterations than those who grow up together. Epigenetic investigations are proving that genes are not destiny; but neither is the environment—even in people. 

Okay, but we already knew that genes are not destiny, but neither is the environment. 
I am hardly the first to hail this new field of biology as revolutionary—the fundamental process by which nature and nurture interact. But to me as an anthropologist long trying to take a middle road in a scientific discipline intractably immersed in nature-versus-nurture warfare, epigenetics is the missing link.

I'm not saying that it isn't valuable to know that one way the environment affects traits is through sending a message to the genes to turn themselves on or off, but that that doesn't tell us anything terribly significantly new about what people get hot under the collar about: the limits of environmental influence. 

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although the scientists never, ever refer to epigenetics in these terms, there is more than a hint of Lamarckism and even Lysenkoism in the theory.Remember we were always taught that the two 'Ls' were the ultimate biological heresy.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to agree w/the other commenters that the real Steve Sailer is no longer writing this column or at least is just phoning it in.

People have different genes and this determines the entire bounds of what they can be.

Whether a gene is on by default or takes a triggering event makes no difference in the above statement. The slate is no more blank than it was before, it is still genetics determining outcome, just in a slightly more complex fashion.

However, if we can somehow figure out how to trigger the genes for intelligent, orderly, and productive lives in low functioning 3rd world populations, I'll eat my words, hat, whatever.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Charles Frith said...

I'm enjoying the lucidity here.

Anonymous said...

Which important traits are 50/50? I've just been reading "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" and Caplan has asserted (and provided studies to support) that for nearly anything we deem important, it's about 90 percent (or more) genes or "other". (Other being defined perhaps as random environment or free will or whatever. The best way to think about it is this: Other explains why identical twins raised in the same household [sharing nature and nurture] do not grow up to be the exact same person).

Anyway, his book essentially asserts that with just a few weakish exceptions (likelihood of committing a crime is one, I think) environment has virtually no effect on long-term outcome: not income, not happiness, not marital success, not net friends, nothing. It's a really hard argument to accept because it's so extreme. It really seems like going to Eton or Exeter should confer advantages over going to a really mediocre public high school (and it certainly does make you more likely to go to Harvard) but it doesn't seem to make you likely to earn more at 45. Can someone point me to some large, well respected studies that differ with this and say nurture matters some? I'd sort of like to think that my parenting has some effect on my kids.

dearieme said...

So when The Left absorbs all this, they'll want to seize all babies and bring them up in epigenetic-enhancing state-owned baby farms, won't they? Some of them are part way there already.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean Lamarck was right to some extent?

Marlowe said...

The environment determines which genes predominate in the first place.

Georgia Resident said...

As far as I can tell, the thing that excites leftists about epigenetics is that there is evidence that some epigenetic effects can be passed on to offspring. This, in their minds, automatically means that any heritable differences between whites and blacks are just the result of epigenetics, and therefore we should move onward with egalitarian social engineering. My guess is that what actual research reveals will be a magnitude or so less earth-shaking than what leftists are trumpeting now, but that won't stop the left from using epigenetics as a blanket comeback to any argument about heritability. As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Anonymous said...

What flips epigenetic switches? Food, light exposure, sleep. The closer humans approximate their ancestral lifestyle, the more those switches will be in an optimal position. Eating neolithic foods, staying up late and/or computer work, and not getting enough sleep will have negative health consequences.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting subject because it finds links between 'nature' and 'nurture'.
(To be sure, 'nurture' should not be confused with environment. 'Nurture' implies social/cultural influences for the improvement of man. Much of environmental factors have nothing to do with 'nurture'; for example, cigarette smoke, factory emissions, lead in water, etc. Nurture is protective supportive, yet much of the environment is hostile and hazardous. Nurture is part of environment, but not all of environment is about nurture. Nurture is also a part of nature since our ability to nurture is partly an expression of our nature. We were born to be nurturing. Some species, especially birds and mammals are very nurturing--by nature. Some species like snakes aren't nurturing at all; they lay eggs and move on. Some species and even races may be naturally more nurturing than others. Mexican parents seem to be more nurturing of their kids--at least emotionally--than black parents are. The different levels of nurturement could owe something to their different natures.)

Anyway, just as Einstein found the link between matter and energy, epigenetics is useful for it finds the links between nature and nurture/environment. We tend to think in dichotomic terms: this vs that, A opposed to B, love vs hate, man vs beast, etc, but there are links and relations--often mutual in nature even if hidden.
To the extent that epigenetics opens up the study of those relationships, it is of real value. (There may be other findings and studies that find other links).
In a way, one could say all of nature is environmental. Evolution , after all, works in reaction to the environment. We tend to think in terms of evolution = biology, but evolution/biology is just environmental-effect-ism across many generations. White man is different from the black man, but much of this has to do with the fact that white man evolved under different environments. So, 'evolutionary nature' is essentially 'environmental nurture' across many generations. The really exciting thing about epigenetics is it shows things can be affected in a single lifetime. Even if the DNA remains the same, the RNA-stuff can play the DNA notes differently. I suppose it's like two people can play exactly the same notes of a piano work BUT play them differently with different stresses. Thus, even with the same musical dna sheet music, the expression can be different depending on which notes are giving special stress while others are played more softly. The study of the RNA-stuff blurs the line between nature and environment-nurture. Our biological workings are more profoundly impacted by our environment than we thought, and our social/cultural behavior is more nature-istic than we thought, i.e. there is more to nature that what is in the DNA; another side of nature is how that DNA-music is played, and that is affected by the 'instructor' of the environment. There is a zone where it's neither just 'nature' or 'nurture' but where two mingle in the most subtle yet profound ways.
This field seems to be just opening up and may tell us a lot more in the future. If real scientists don't get control of this, the Left will exploit it and come up with new idiocies to cook up new pseudo-scientific programs for bridging the gap. This field has to be owned and controlled by real scientists as soon as possible. Do not ignore it. It has HUGE sociological and ideological implications.

Kylie said...

"I have to say that I've never quite gotten the excitement over epigenetics as a revolutionizing nature-nurture debates."

That's because you're too nice. Epigenetics, taken to extremes and twisted and distorted, would give the left a permanent stranglehold over that branch of science.

"However, if we can somehow figure out how to trigger the genes for intelligent, orderly, and productive lives in low functioning 3rd world populations, I'll eat my words, hat, whatever."

Yes, you'll be eating your hat because the left will take every penny you have to subsidize this effort. After all, who could argue about the cost of such a massive improvement in the lives of so many millions?

Kylie said...

"I have to say that I've never quite gotten the excitement over epigenetics as a revolutionizing nature-nurture debates."

That's because you're too nice. Epigenetics, taken to extremes and twisted and distorted, would give the left a permanent stranglehold over that branch of science.

"However, if we can somehow figure out how to trigger the genes for intelligent, orderly, and productive lives in low functioning 3rd world populations, I'll eat my words, hat, whatever."

Yes, you'll be eating your hat because the left will take every penny you have to subsidize this effort. After all, who could argue about the cost of such a massive improvement in the lives of so many millions?

Anonymous said...

"I'm starting to agree w/the other commenters that the real Steve Sailer is no longer writing this column or at least is just phoning it in."

Who started this silly meme? I've been reading iSteve since May of 2007. I don't think I've missed any posts since then. I haven't noticed any change of voice recently. Either I'm monumentally imperceptive or the guy who promotes this idea is full of crap.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that adoption studies really achieve the randomness that they're said to and here's why:

Adopting healthy white kids is harder than adopting healthy black kids. White kids are more likely to be adopted young (and this is the sort of adoption that's more likely to work well) and to go to better-off families. Adopted children are not a perfect control group for nurture.

And of course, you've got to have $100,000 in the bank for some adoption agencies to even look at your parenting application.

AnotherDad said...

@Anon 2:00AM.
I'm not the brigthest bulb ... at least this morning, but i'm not getting the Lamarckism?

This sounds like a theory much like the sickle cell trait, except balanced against the human "violence environment" rather than local anopheles\malaria load. Or come to think of it like what keeps the sex ratio near 50/50 (pre-sex-selective abortion).

AnotherDad said...

Interesting data point on the Eipo. It would be goodness to have more data. Including comparison in more violence "hill tribe" peoples--Scots, Irish--as opposed to more settled people.

SFG said...

It's all politics. But you knew that.

AnotherDad said...

I confess i don't really understand the left-handed catcher issue.

2nd base seems a wash: Lefties must throw through righties (rh-batters), but righties must throw through lefties who aren't exactly uncommon either.

I get 3rd base is a slower throw for lefties, but there their motion will let them setup to avoid rh-batters. Righties throw to check 1st, though admittedly being late isn't critical. Since 3rd is stolen so little, mostly because of its closeness (and risking a runner already in scoring position) ... doesn't seem like this is a big issue. On the other hand if successfully stealing 3rd opened up against leftie catchers ... i can see the impact. Maybe this is it.

The one big disadvantage i see is bunts down the 1st base line to advance a runner. But then righties have an ugly play on all bunts down the 3rd base line right now, while lefties would have a real nice play.

Maybe whenever there's a lefty with a strong arm ... they make him a pitcher ;-)

I'm not a baseball guy -- i lasted all of one year in little league and retired at .500 (up twice) -- if someone's actually educated on this, like to hear the reason.

dearieme said...

On the contest vs "righties": one of the leading cricket batsmen of the last few years, Kevin Petersen, has lately come a cropper because it's been discovered that his batting is particularly weak against slow left-arm bowlers.

Anonymous said...

It does seem to me like epigenetics pushes up the amount of variation that we can control, because we understand better how environmental influences work. Even if it were a 50-50 genes-environment split, how much of the environment half did we have direct control over? 5%? If that's now 10%, that's a massive win, and the question of the split ratio is just politics.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying that it isn't valuable to know that one way the environment affects traits is through sending a message to the genes to turn themselves on or off, but that that doesn't tell us anything terribly significantly new about what people get hot under the collar about: the limits of environmental influence."

What amuses me are extremists on the question of nature vs nurture: those who believe their genetic make-up will cause them to be successful in any circumstances and who would never commit certain acts of violence or crimes vs those who believe only learning/experience determines outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Why are a person's liver cells different than their skin cells? Their genomes are as identical as two monozygotic twins. But a liver cell behaves very differently than a skin cell. These differences are caused by "epigenetic" factors.

Scientists who do not understand developmental biology tend to be the most excited about epigenetics and to understand it the least.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to agree w/the other commenters that the real Steve Sailer is no longer writing this column or at least is just phoning it in.

It's possible that Steve is deliberately trying to tone down the rhetoric around here because he sees [as do all of us here within our little community of contrarians] the increasingly rapid acceleration towards the HBD singularity - the collapse in fertility rates in Japan, China, Europe, and the Blue States of the USA, leading to crises in their bond markets & the metaphysical certainty that their debts will never be repaid, with the attendant torching of the banlieues in Paris, the Tottenham conflagrations in London, the wanton flash mobs & the late-night IHOP/Denny's/Waffle House videotaped catfights & the Black Friday shopping riots in the Blue States - one gets the unmistakable feeling that all of the most horrifying HBD chickens are finally coming home to roost.

And if The Half-Blood Prince loses in his reelection bid this November - particularly if it's a close election - then many of our inner cities could go up in flames.

Which leaves a prudent HBD commentator with a terrible weight on his shoulders - a most sobering burden to bear.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

That's because you're too nice. Epigenetics, taken to extremes and twisted and distorted, would give the left a permanent stranglehold over that branch of science.

Exactly. They will tacitly admit the obvious importance of genes, and then demand the power to control them.

Kiwiguy said...

***there is more than a hint of Lamarckism and even Lysenkoism in the theory***

I think this was mentioned in 'Survival of the Sickest' which discusses the role of epigenetics. The author suggests that Lamarck wasn't entirely wrong.

miss marple said...

"Either I'm monumentally imperceptive or the guy who promotes this idea is full of crap."

None of the above, my dear. You most certainly haven't been reading this blog that long or you'd have noticed the content has changed more than the style. It was most obvious when the fake Sailer wanted frequent readers to clue him/her in on Sailer's aphorisms. The person who originated the blog would never need reminding of his themes or sayings or frequent references. I of course didn't help fake Steve fill in the gaps in his knowledge like he had amnesia or something, please!

Anonymous said...

A left wing relative of mine once told me that the lower (average) IQ of blacks is due to epigenetic factors resulting from the stresses of slavery. Not that I want to deny that epigenetics is real. I'm sure it is, but leftists are milking it well beyond its capacity.

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying that it isn't valuable to know that one way the environment affects traits is through sending a message to the genes to turn themselves on or off


Well, if you want to reify the environment (or is that deify?).

However, it is more likely that genes in various organisms have been selected to be able to detect environmental conditions of importance to them, and thus genes are the agents in this little dance.

Reg Cæsar said...

Let's cut to the chase: how does this apply to homos?

Is something in our environment switching their genes on? Is this a semi-acquired taste? (Or lack thereof?)

I've never been impressed by the all-genetic nor the earlier all-environmental explanations for what should really be called "heterophobia".

Roy said...

"Who started this silly meme? I've been reading iSteve since May of 2007. I don't think I've missed any posts since then. I haven't noticed any change of voice recently. Either I'm monumentally imperceptive or the guy who promotes this idea is full of crap."

I wouldn't put it past some on the left to start these rumors in an attempt to hurt Steve's credibility or lower his readership.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that they'll have to stop complaining about the "stolen generation"?

Kylie said...

"one gets the unmistakable feeling that all of the most horrifying HBD chickens are finally coming home to roost.

And if The Half-Blood Prince loses in his reelection bid this November - particularly if it's a close election - then many of our inner cities could go up in flames.

Which leaves a prudent HBD commentator with a terrible weight on his shoulders - a most sobering burden to bear."


How so? By definition, no prudent HBD commentator would indulge in inflammatory rhetoric. Surely you aren't suggesting that Steve or any other prudent HBD commentator bears any responsibility other than soberly discussing the facts of HBD as he knows and understands them.

I've read your comment several times and can only infer that you subscribe to the absurd notion that some facts are "hate facts". I hope I'm wrong about that.*

*Yes, I realize HBD is a theory, not a fact, but it does have a factual basis.

NOTA said...

Epigenetics can carry across generations, allowing a kind of faster adjustability of inherited traits. For intergroup differences of the kind that are important now, that could conceivably be a big deal--allowing underperforming groups to improve in two or three generations, rather than twenty or thirty. Of course, that can work the other way, too--perhsps the changes in our environments will make our grandkids dumber or less able to control impulses.

Aaron B. said...

Epigenetics is important because the left can't accept any nature/nurture division except 0%/100%. Realists and actual scientists may debate whether, on a particular topic like IQ, the breakdown is 50/50, 25/75, or whatever; but the left says even considering the numbers makes you suspect. If even 1% of IQ is set in your genes at birth, then someone has an unfair advantage that can't be nullified by any amount of improving the environment. (Unless you exclude that kid from the improvements, of course, as programs like Head Start attempt to do. That they have nothing to show for their trouble suggests the percentage is a lot higher than 1%.) So egalitarianism demands that "nature" be responsible for 0%.

However, the facts increasingly show otherwise; it's simply not debatable anymore that some percentage of traits comes directly from our genes. New gene studies will continue to make that fact harder to avoid. But epigenetics gives them a loophole -- ah ha, yes, this group does show gene patterns related to this or that deficiency compared to other groups, but it can't be inherent to their group (because that's an article of our faith), so it must be caused by some damage after conception. Enter epigenetics! See, it's all because their mothers smoke too much or don't eat right, because the government hasn't done enough to help them.

It's a stop-gap measure, because eventually we'll learn to quantify the effect of epigenetics, just as we've begun to with heredity, and then we'll be back to the old argument. Realists will be talking about whatever percentage heredity is left with, and the left will still be insisting it's zero, because that's the only way their conception of "created equal" can be true.

Marc B said...

The word Hispanic is an intentionally vague catch-all that includes everybody from the 100% Spanish soap star in Mexico to the 100% African Dominican aspiring major league baseball player. I predict as the Hispanic population of the US increases, as stratification of the different groups currently under the same rainbow coalition will appear.

David said...

Environment massages genes, but genes transform environments. I am saying advantage genes: they work quicker on environments than the latter do on them. One example: while it takes a million (or a thousand) years to produce some Edisons, some Edisons commonly produce significant changes in human environments in a fraction of that time. The ratios may thus decrease but I still say genes will be ahead the whole time.

Anonymous said...

"A left wing relative of mine once told me that the lower (average) IQ of blacks is due to epigenetic factors resulting from the stresses of slavery."

Then how come black African IQ is lower than black-American IQ?
And weren't Jews under much stress for 100s of yrs? How come they are smarter than white gentiles?

Anonymous said...

People who blame centuries of oppression for black lunacy in America must be crazy. If 100s of yrs can cause that much impact, imagine what 100,000s yrs could do. Blacks lived in Africa for 100,000s of yrs and lived in America for only few 100s of yrs. So, using the leftist logic, which would have more impact on black behavior? 100,000s of yrs of existence in Africa or 100s of yrs of existence in America? (And was African slavery more just and kindly than American slavery? Seems like more people died as a result of it.)

Also, if 100s of yrs of conditioning in America cannot be overturned by decades of counter-conditioning, what hope is there of overturning 100,000s of yrs of conditioning in Africa that really created the features and characteristics of the black race?

Anonymous said...

If epigenetics is really useful, how about they ban rap music as I don't think its social impact on blacks is very good.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Environments switching genes on or off is interesting, and it is a new twist. I don't see evidence that has enormous influence, however. No doubt a few big-ticket items will show up, which will be the basis for a Newsweek cover and a whole new shopful of cliches, after which it will become a cover story for National Geographic, explaining how the cliches aren't entirely true - no, no, no, it's far more complex than that, so complex that only a Real Scientist or you, an NG subscriber, could possibly understand it - but they are uh, politically useful to keep anyway. With great photos of affable scientists, collections of different-looking people, and microscopic stuff.

As to real Steve, fake Steve, I suggest it is mood-dependent, both in writer and reader.

Anonymous said...

"I've never been impressed by the all-genetic nor the earlier all-environmental explanations for what should really be called 'heterophobia'."

Good point.

Radical Genetic Determinator?? said...

I don't think that adoption studies really achieve the randomness that they're said to and here's why:

Adopting healthy white kids is harder than adopting healthy black kids. White kids are more likely to be adopted young (and this is the sort of adoption that's more likely to work well) and to go to better-off families. Adopted children are not a perfect control group for nurture.


You've missed the entire point of adoption studies.

They are not used to compare across sets of twins (black vs white), but to compare between two identical twins.

The idea is to gather data on how much different environments can affect individuals with essentially the same genome.

What amuses me are extremists on the question of nature vs nurture: those who believe their genetic make-up will cause them to be successful in any circumstances...

While I've heard a lot of MSM "intellectuals" argue for the essentially 100% environment radical blank slate position, I've never heard of anyone claim 100% genetic cause.

What would that even be called anyway: Radical Genetic Determinism? Your claim of 100% genetic determinant believers is so of out left field, I don't think I've ever heard a proper name for it.

For IQ, height and such the highest genetic correlation I've heard quoted is 70-80% based upon some studies.

Can you name anyone who claims humans are 100% a product of their genes? Are you just strawmanning a line of reasoning you emotionally dislike but cannot intellectually refute?

Jacob Roberson said...

I'm starting to agree w/the other commenters that the real Steve Sailer is no longer writing this column or at least is just phoning it in.

I'm not a ZOMG Klansman and I'm still reading. Could be intentional. I think he's trying to stay within the bounds of reality:

Okay, but we already knew that genes are not destiny, but neither is the environment.

Jacob Roberson said...

Can you name anyone who claims humans are 100% a product of their genes? Are you just strawmanning a line of reasoning you emotionally dislike but cannot intellectually refute?

I think he means this:

People have different genes and this determines the entire bounds of what they can be.

Whether a gene is on by default or takes a triggering event makes no difference in the above statement. The slate is no more blank than it was before, it is still genetics determining outcome, just in a slightly more complex fashion.


IOW I'll agree with you that it's rare, but I've seen it before. It makes some feel better, shrug.

My conclusion? I always think of car parts when we talk about molecular biology. I have a slight electronic modification on my car to make it not die on me randomly, mechanics do that all the time. Is evolution too stupid improve us when it gets the chance? Really?

Matko said...

Although the scientists never, ever refer to epigenetics in these terms, there is more than a hint of Lamarckism and even Lysenkoism in the theory.

Absolutely. The Left will abuse epigenetics to counter HBD in the coming future once it gets to the mainstream awareness. It will be an attempt to preserve the blank slate myth. I know this one male homosexual who claims that gender is determined epigenetically. He also said that sexual dimorphism doesn't exist in nature.

Aaron B. said...

"He also said that sexual dimorphism doesn't exist in nature."

Sometimes I think many of our modern stupidities come from the fact that so many people don't actually spend time in nature (except in sterile settings like parks and zoos). Growing up on a farm and being around livestock, I knew sexual dimorphism existed years before I could have pronounced it. A lot of HBD stuff, the first time I heard about it, struck me as, "Wait, you mean everyone doesn't know that's how it works?"

Matko said...

A lot of HBD stuff, the first time I heard about it, struck me as, "Wait, you mean everyone doesn't know that's how it works?"

Put me too in that category. Let's be honest: most of it is basic biology.

Anonymous said...

"I'm starting to agree w/the other commenters that the real Steve Sailer is no longer writing this column or at least is just phoning it in."

Could be Sailer has a new book coming out and maybe he wants it to go mainstream. So, maybe he's toning things down a bit.

Scott Locklin said...

I figure you're thinking about this all wrong, Steve. While the left will doubtless try to pervert the idea into some glorified Lysenkoism, I think they will find that most of the epigenetic effects are as immutable as genetic effects.
One of the effects that has been fairly unambiguously demonstrated is the "famine effect" observed in the Överkalix study; you're more likely to get diabetes if your grandparents went through a period of starvation. There isn't much anyone could do about this; if your grandparents went hungry: tough shit.
For myself, I strongly suspect an awful lot of things we consider harmless will turn out to have negative effects on future generations. There is much conservative tradition which doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a purely genetic perspective, which may very well have extremely important epigenetic consequences. Cultures which passed on such taboos would do better than those who didn't, even if we can't see purely genetic or any obvious psychological reasons why this may be so.

Anonymous said...

It is a birth defect! This is great news! Now maybe they will have a cure in the not so distant future! Maybe now once and for all we can rid mankind of a defect that has caused so much pain and suffering for the victims and the people who love them! I mean how many times have we heard them say that they were born this way and how many times have they asked who would choose this type of life style considering all the things that come with it! Finally we may be able to perform a test during pregnancy and determine if this defect is present and then fix it before it fully develops and/or maybe even come up with a cure for people who are born with this defect! This is absolutely wonderful! Way to go scientists!