Epigenetics – The ghost in your genes

 
Epigenetics – Turning genes on and off  

The BBC Horizon documentary The ghost in your genes, successfully explains a particularly complex field of science. Genetic inheritance has historically been thought of as involving the transmission of DNA from one generation to the next affected by occasional mutations in the DNA itself (00:04:37 – 00:05:50). “Up to now, inheritance is just the genes, the DNA sequence. I suspect that we’re going to be able to demonstrate that inheritance is more than that”, explains Professor Marcus Pembrey from the Institute of Child Health, UCL. A few scientists had hypothesised that the conventional genetic model and mode of inheritance was too simplistic to explain the complexity of human beings. The revelation that the human genome likely contains only about 30,000 genes (00:08:54 – 00:11:33), coupled with increasing experimental evidence, now leads scientists to believe that other factors allow genes to be switched on and off in response to environmental stimuli. The consequences of which may affect subsequent generations.

 
Professor Marcus Pembrey  

In the early 1980s, Professor Pembrey was Head of the Clinical Genetics Department at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London (00:05:50 – 00:08:58 and 00:11:33 -00:16:47). He was often presented with families exhibiting unconventional genetic inheritance patterns. This drew his attention to two genetic diseases;

  • Angelman syndrome, which displays clinical symptoms of jerky movements, little or no speech and a very happy personality
  • Prader-Willi syndrome, patients are found to be very floppy in infancy and develop an insatiable appetite associated with obesity in later life

 
‘Pint’ hexagon shape represents an imprint on the human genome  

He worked out that these two completely different diseases were caused by the same genetic alteration, a small deletion on chromosome 15. What was even more remarkable was that the parent from whom the mutation was inherited determined which disease was observed in the patient. If it was inherited from the mother then the child would have Angelman syndrome; from the father then the child would have Prader-Willi syndrome.  This phenomenon suggested that the chromosome somehow ‘knew’ its origin and therefore must be tagged or imprinted in some way – this has become known as ‘genomic imprinting‘. During sperm or egg production, a chemical change results in the same DNA sequence on each chromosome having different functional properties. These events can lead to a particular gene being turned on or off, and this is the central principle underlying ‘epigenetics‘.

 
Professor Wolf Reik  

Professor Wolf Reik, Developmental Geneticist, Babraham Institute Cambridge (00:16:46 – 00:24:05), helped unravel the control process. He noticed that when a mouse embryo was placed in a culture dish some of genes would be switched off and wondered whether this could also be true for human embryos during In vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Beckwith-Wiedeman syndrome (BWS), which is typically characterised by the excessive growth caused by reduced expression of a growth-suppressing gene and increased expression of a growth-promoting gene, is another epigenetic disease. These genes, which are found on chromosome 11, usually work in tandem to ensure correct and proportional growth. In the disease state, epigenetic changes cause this to become unbalanced, leading to excessive growth of the patient.

Professor Reik discovered that BWS occurs more frequently in IVF-conceived children than with natural births. This evidence suggests that placing a human embryo in a culture dish and thus changing its environment, could induce an epigenetic alteration, causing genes to be turned on and off. Professor Reik also showed that the epigenetic changes observed in mice could be inherited from one generation to another.

 
Professor Rachel Yehuda  

To establish whether an environmental stimuli could imprint inheritable change on DNA in humans, the documentary examines the work of Professor Rachel Yehuda, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York and Professor Jonathan Seckl, Edinburgh University (00:28:19 – 00:35:46). Both were interested in ‘transgenerational effects’, in which an event could happen in one generation and be transmitted non-genetically to the next generation. Professor Seckl’s work on pregnant rats had shown that exposure to stress hormones caused raised anxiety in their offspring, and in generations thereafter.

 
BBC News report on research  

Their work examined the impact the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks in New York had on pregnant women. The human ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, is involved in the human response to stress. Low levels detected in the saliva are associated with difficulties coping with stressful events which may induce a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Pregnant women in the last third of their pregnancy at the time of the attacks on the Twin Towers and who suffered with PTSD not only had low levels of cortisol but also their children were born with lower than normal levels of cortisol in their saliva as well. This indicated that events during the last third of a woman’s pregnancy could change their children’s ability to cope with stress. To confirm that this was an epigenetic change, both scientists admit that they will need to examine the cortisol levels in the next generation, to see whether this change has in fact been inherited and is not just a consequence of high levels of cortisol in the mother’s womb.

In search of further evidence of the epigenetic phenomenon, Professor Pembrey teamed up with Swedish Professor Lars Olov Bygen, The University of Umea (00:23:46 – 00:28:19 and 00:35:16 – 00:43:18). Their work focussed on the remote Sweden town of Overkalix. The town has an extensive archive of population records, including all births and deaths of people who have lived there and, crucially, harvest information going back hundreds of years.

 
Professor Lars Olov Bygen  

At first they found that life expectancy of grandchildren was directly affected by the diet of the grandparents. Fatal childhood diabetes was often associated with their father’s father living during a period of reduced food supply. In a further development, the records revealed that triggering of a trans-generational effect was dependent upon the time in the grandparents’ lives when food had been in short supply. For the grandfather it was just before puberty and for the grandmother it was the moment of conception, crucial moments in the development of sperm and egg. These observations suggest that environmental information, in this case supply of food, was being imprinted on the DNA of the sperm and egg, providing strong evidence that epigenetic inheritance occurs in humans.  

 
Exposure to pesticides and its epigenetic affect on offspring  

In further work, Mike Skinner (00:43: 18 – 00:45:51) exposed a pregnant rat to a high dose of a common pesticide. He found that the offspring passed on an array of diseases, such as; tumours, kidney disease and immune dysfunction from generation to generation. This evidence suggests that there are a whole series of environment events that might possibly trigger transgenerational affects and effect future generations.  

 

Ethics of epigenetics

 
Lifestyle choices and epigenetics  

The understanding of mechanisms by which environmental events can induce transgenerational effects is significant. The gender of the parent passing on a mutation, use of IVF, mental trauma, food supply and pesticide use have all been implicated as epigenetic triggers. It is highly likely that other lifestyle factors may leave people susceptible to epigenetic changes, with alcohol consumption, drug taking, smoking, exercise, stress at work and atmospheric toxins amongst the most probable candidates.  As such, this raises many ethical issues for discussion;

  • Epigenetics may demonstrate that people have a choice concerning the influences to which they ‘expose’ their genome. Should there be obligations concerning the lifestyle decisions of the current generation for the sake of future progeny?
  • Will individuals be legally culpable for future illness in their offspring if an established link is ignored?
  • Will epigenetics lead to multigenerational liability for mortgages, employment or insurance? Will environmental events in previous generations lead to higher premiums for the current generation?
  • Should women be prevented from working in the later stages of pregnancy to preserve future generations?
  • Would epigenetics lead to issues of discrimination?
  • Is the information contained within the human genome more or less sensitive now that scientists recognise epigenetic influences? How and who does this information effect?  Should it be protected by privacy legislation?
  • What effects could epigenetics have on compensation payments? Environmental justice – workers, home owners, car driver are exposed to different substances. What health effects will this have on future generations?
  • Epigenetics will highlight social inequalities – those that could be affected most are those who have the least hospitable home and work environments and least access to full and proper health care.

‘The ghost in your genes’ is an excellent resource to help explain the basis of genomic imprinting and epigenetics. Despite never directly discussing the ethical issues surrounding the topic, it does make many references regards to the possible implications epigenetics may have for future generations. It also acts as a very thought provoking documentary regards the rights and wrongs of the research and the consequences such findings may have.

This Horizon episode was first broadcast on 3rd November 2005, BBC 2, 21:00pm, 50 minute (TRILT Identifier 005536A3) and was repeated 10th November 2005, BBC1, 02:05am.

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23 Responses to Epigenetics – The ghost in your genes

  1. For those interested specifically in the legal and ethical aspects of epigenetics, Rothstein et al have recently published an open access article. It actually has a similar name to this programme, The Ghost in Our Genes: Legal and Ethical Implications of Epigenetics

  2. Mitch Foster says:

    Some basis has already been established regarding parental responsibility for developmental disabilities that are clearly tracked to parental decisions. For instance, a mother who conceives at the age of 49 has a 1:11 chance of having a child with Down Syndrome. The average for a mother aged 20-24 is more like 1:1500. The consequences for a mother/family are not legal, but there are significant natural consequences for parents who choose to uphold their responsibilities for their children. Around 70% of the causes for mental retardation can be identified to specific causes, and many of these causes are preventable by parental decisions. I would like to know more about upigenetics as it relates to Autism and other PDD’s, as the Pervasive Developmental Disabilities spectrum have been quickly on the increase (statistically speaking) over the past twenty years.

  3. Lance Newell says:

    I must say,I am just facinated with these kinds of studies.The deeper we dig,the more we discover,and of course,thats is why we keep digging.
    I am not sure that society is ready at this time,nor in the near future to blame parents for medical,ie gene problems with the offspring.
    However,I have little doubt that society is more than ready for more work in this wonderful area.

  4. Dr. Murray M. Morgan says:

    I am a scientist since 1981. The more I learn, the more I find as to miniscule amount of the secret of life, and as a result, the stronger become the strenght of my belief in the existance of God/Khoda/Ahouramazda/Allah.

  5. Dr. Murray M. Morgan says:

    The more I learn, the more I find that how little our knowledge of the secret of life is. In 1987, I was involved in production of transgenic mice for HTLV cancer research. I am a microvascular surgeon who has done heart transplant in rats., and produced a an in vivo technique of production of Kupffer’s cells. As I said, the more I learn, the stronger has become my belief in God.

  6. KC says:

    Maybe you could show some respect for God by not experimenting on live animals.

  7. [...] Geneticists are finding out that foods or chemicals your grandmother was exposed to can affect not only her children but her grandchildren as well. The question is at what point does the [...]

  8. susan says:

    where can i find more info regarding the same?

    am working on my PhD in Holistic Nutrition and wish to do a Thesis which will help!

    I live in Epuyen, Chubut, Argentina…. thank you for your time and help… yours in peace, Susan

  9. Beads Land says:

    Please source “Fatal childhood diabetes” claim. No other reporting, nor abstract to articles published, makes claim other than “grandchild mortality” due to diabetes. Research clearly links childhood g(1) experience to life outcomes of g(3). How do we get from this to childhood fatality in g(3)?

  10. The post describes an episode from the BBC science documentary series Horizon

  11. Allan Greene says:

    09-22-2009: I’ve seen this documentary several times, the third time this evening. I’ve also signed onto the internet and seen another version of it, the BBC version. It is an exciting area of science.

    But I fear those so-called “bioethicists” who will decide, hmmm, let us place the burden on individuals rather than on the sort of cruelly insane economic and social order of private property-based individualistic capitalism which lets elites and ruling classes do anything they want to the rest of us, including create precisely the sorts of conditions making for the effects spoken of in this very interesting documentary. Putting the burden on individual humans, rather than putting it on society and on the necessity to change the insane economic and social order of individualistically based, “anything goes” capitalism into a humane, global, socialist kind of economic and social order, is precisely what NOT to do. All that does is perpetuate the sorts of horrifically stress-inducing results which the revolutionary implications of the findings in this documentary should point us all away from.

    I realized how controversial these findings have been when I got unceremoniously evicted from the website of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, genetic reductionists all of them, named, ironically, “The Reason Project,” after mentioning the important implications of epigenetics on genetic reductionist dogmas, and additionally mentioning favorably the 40-years-long work of the American geneticist, Richard Lewontin at Harvard, who in the 1980s authored the book, “Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature” with 2 colleagues, Steve Rose and Leon Kamin, and also after I favorably mentioned the magnificent work of the late evolutionary biologist and paleontologist and colleague of Dr. Lewontin, Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, entitled, “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.” All these folks, including the folks in the documentary on epigenetics, whatever differences in scientific interpretations they might have had with each other, seem to take issue with the dogmas of genetic reductionism, and to point to a more all-sided perspective on how biological evolution occurs.

    Finally, one last thing. I’m a hardline materialist, and a hardline atheist. I don’t think it’s necessary to be a god-believer or antimaterialist in philosophy to view all these findings as rigorously empirically based and, consequently, as rigorously in the “spirit,” if you will, of the hardcore materialism of real science.

    What the late Steve Gould in “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” pointed out, however, is that evolution seems to happen not just on the level of the organism, as Darwin suggested, but on multiple levels, such as levels like the genus, species or clade, population, organism, gene. Epigenetics introduces the tantalizing view that there is a whole matrix, the epigenome, in the “mix,” as it were, which is a key variable in how evolution happens.

    And again, despite the fact the late Steve Gould referred to his view as not materialist and not determinist, I would have to respectfully disagree with him and defend him against himself on this issue. I think Steve Gould’s evolutionary theory is, essentially, a much reworked kind of higher-level sort of Darwinism on a much more multiply-leveled sort of basis. All materialism and all determinism suggest is, there’s causes and effects. But there is nothing in either materialism or in determinism to suggest — as the rather narrow-minded genetic reductionists would have it — that determinism is a unidirectional sort of thing, or, for that matter, that natural selection is a unidirectional sort of thing. Nor is there anything in natural selection that would necessarily imply keeping selectionism purely at the level of the organism or even lower, at the level of the gene, as the genetic reductionists would have people believe. Gould, I think, fruitfully suggested selectionism occurring on multiple levels, and also suggested a kind of multi-directional determinism without himself really necessarily giving himself the credit for having done so when he published his marvelous book in 2002 — the same year he, very sadly, died.

    Anyway, I think epigenetics will add to the fruitful insights of people like Dr. Lewontin, his fine student, Dr. Spencer Wells, and the late Dr. Gould, and I think Dr. Pembrey, Dr. Bygren, and the other fine scientists involved in the work mentioned in this documentary must be seen not as some kinds of “kooks” or as sanctioning a crackpot anti-materialist, anti-empiricist attitude in science, but, instead, as confirming hardcore rigorously empiricist and materialist scientific scholarship in the best sense.

    From what Dr. Gould in “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” wrote in 2002, it’s clear that while Darwinian logic deserves, I think, its privileged place in building any viable structure of evolutionary theory (and it was on the basis of Darwinian logic that Dr. Gould built his revised sort of Darwinian evolutionary theory), it’s now also true that other great evolutionary biologists both before and after Darwin — Lamarck comes particularly to mind regarding, especially, epigenetics and its insights, with his long-opposed, but now, seemingly, confirmed, view that acquired traits can, under certain circumstances, be inherited; but additionally, evolutionists like Cuvier on the issue of catastrophism, DeVries, Weissman and Goldschmidt on the issue of natural selectionism occurring as species selectionism, not mainly organismal selectionism, which is the level to which Darwin tried to limit his way of seeing how selectionism occurred (although Darwin in assessing how diversity happened, accepted — reluctantly — species selectionism as the only way of properly explaining or grappling with the problem of how diversity happened, and he did this even though he didn’t like doing it, which only showed he was much more honest than scientists who will not let facts get in the way of pursuing their careers or excommunicating from amongst their lot scientific heretics) — ought to be re-analyzed and brought back into the “mix” to get a sense for how a more all encompassing material world-based evolutionary theory could be postulated. I think Stephen Jay Gould’s book is certainly important.

    But so is this documentary.

    Highly recommended. And again, I don’t think it requires god-belief. I come at this from the hardcore atheistic and materialistic standpoint. But I also don’t think materialism implies unidirectionalism or genetic reductionism or, indeed, any kind of reductionism necessarily. There have been, philosophically speaking, “holistic,” if you will, varieties of materialism which take as the irreducible bottom line the material world in which we live as all that we can truly know, and that, moreover, we “know” the world by interacting with same. The epigenetic insights certainly lend themselves to a kind of materialistic perspective more along the lines of this kind of materialistic perspective I’m expounding as opposed to the more narrow-minded, unidirectional, reductionist form of materialism.

    Best for now,
    Allan Greene
    Email: tompaine1917@yahoo.com

  12. Thanks Allan for your long and thoughtful comments. Epigenetics is certainly a field the importance of which is only just starting to emerge.

  13. Allan Greene says:

    October 6, 2009, About 5:10 a.m. EST: The model of evolutionary theory of the late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, punctuated equilibrium, has as a corollary very long, extended periods of stasis interrupted by moments of “punctuations.” The position of classical Darwinian gradualism seems to argue for built-up accumulations of incremental changes over long periods of time.

    The Gould “revised” Darwinian model, and the “classical” Darwinian model both operate in real science-constrained frameworks. That is, both accept the constraints of the vastness of geological time, and there’s no pretense in either one of some kind of supernaturalistically based superstitious outside intervention from some alleged, but innately untestable, “divine” source.

    Gould argues for the innately non-testable or untestable nature of religious claims, while Dawkins in “The God Delusion” argues that god belief is a testable claim that utterly fails all the tests; Dawkins is a biologist. Stenger argues the same point in “God: The Failed Hypothesis,” as Dawkins argued in “The God Delusion,” from the perspective of a physicist. Gould, more or less in line with Richard C. Lewontin, an eminent geneticist, long-time friend and sometime collaborator of Gould in some joint projects in evolutionary biology, seems to argue more or less along the line of Gould that religious claims are innately non-testable. But the point of nontestability is roughly the same as the point of results of tests which utterly fail: namely, in either case, the religious claims have no scientific certitude or value. And claims for the source for morality or ethics as lodging in religion must, correspondingly, be sought elsewhere.

    The most interesting point in Gould’s Darwinian revisionist theory of punctuated equilibrium seems as I continue reading Gould’s huge “Structure of Evolutionary Theory” to be the fortuitous nature of structural changes in species. One of the arguments I used to get into with classical Darwinian gradualists was over the seemingly teleological (that is, crypto-theological) notion of “adaptationally conferred advantage,” almost as if nature were sort of a divinity with a divine plan “conferring advantage” here and “conferring advantage” there on given species. Gould seems to argue the much more radical view that structural changes may, or may not, confer advantages, and whether or not they do is pretty much a crap shoot. I’m inclined to agree with him on this.

    But I’m also seeing in the latest developments in epigenetics of the role of the epigenome as a kind of “modifier” or “intermediary” between the outside environment on one side and, on the other side, the internal gene dynamics of cells in the body, something which, at least from what I can gather looking through Gould’s “Structure of Evolutionary Theory,” including at its index, he did not address. This book was published in 2002, however, and some of the interesting developments in epigenetics addressed in the recent “Ghost in Your Genes” NOVA documentary on epigenetics seem to have occurred primarily in the period since 2002. This was both the publication date of Gould’s book and also the date of his death, so obviously, he could not have pursued the matter of later epigenetic science developments.

    His Harvard scientific colleague, Dr. Richard C. Lewontin, has, however, throughout his, Lewontin’s, distinguished career pursued the issue of a more holistic materialist kind of genetics which sees the gene as part of a greater totality of material realities. I have not to date read Dr. Lewontin’s book, “The Triple Helix,” but from some reviews of it I’ve read on line, I get the impression this book pursues earlier work of Dr. Lewontin — praised while Dr. Gould was still alive by Dr. Gould — in the vein of a more holistic kind of total science.

    Another interesting aspect touched on by Dr. Gould in his book is mechanisms other than natural selection in species survival.

    Additionally, the fortuitousness by which it might be the case that species have survived sheds some new light on issues of, for example, the rather arrogant and vaunted notions of homo sapiens that we are the apogee of all hominid development. Gould seems to place us in a humbler position, as one among what might once have been a much more colorfully diverse set of diverse humankinds, if you will, all of whom seem to have become extinct save ourselves. This raises, of course, the disturbing question, what happened to these other species of humans?

    Then, there is the conventional assumption that the horse, for instance, is itself sort of the result of this ever-onward-and-upward development toward the apogee of complexity. Again, Gould postulates that, in fact, the contemporary horse is not anything save probably the last gasp of a once much more diversified number of varieties of similar creatures.

    Furthermore, Gould looks at the humble bacteria, and sees in it evidence of much greater long-term success, not to mention, with the criterion of long-term stasis (“stick-to-a-tivity” of species over long periods of time in a relatively non-changed way), its having apparently “done something right.”

    If one takes the criterion of stasis over long periods of time as a criterion of long-term species success, then it immediately becomes evident that many species of all kinds seem just on the face of it to fit in this sort of category. Only in the 1920s, the coelenterata, a fish long thought to have died out literally about 300 million years ago, was apparently caught in some nets of some fishermen on some islands proximate to the coast of Indonesia. This fish is now realized to still be around, although it resides in very deep parts of the waters where it lives, and if brought to the surface, dies; but it is truly a “living fossil.”

    Another species that has survived roughly in the same sort of way for literally hundreds of millions of years is the hated cockroach. While it was much bigger in the Permian period, around the time life had just recently come onto the land, and later in the period of the dinosaurs, the Mesozoic, basically, it’s been pretty much the same for hundreds of millions of years of geological time.

    The fern plant, too, is another species that seems to be an example of successful species that’s been roughly in the same form for hundreds of millions of years.

    And so are the crocodiles and alligators, which scientists seem to date back at least to the Mesozoic, the era of the dinosaurs.

    So Gould’s model of evolution, punctuated equilibrium, postulating stasis as a key way of explaining the viability of many life forms, certainly seems to be more successful as a way of explaining their viability than the assumption of gradualistically incrementally accumulated changes over long periods of time.

    Gould, however, pays some attention in his book to the attempt of more classical Darwinian gradualists to explain change as “glacial change” (That is, as so slow as to be virtually imperceptible) in some species, which, as a model, might “work” for explaining some of the life forms mentioned here. There seems here to be room for healthy dialogue and debate among scientists of both “camps” on this issue.

    Also, there does not seem a hard “either-or” position taken by the most honest of scientists in either “camp.” I do, however, think Gould’s model of punctuated equilibrium is an enormous help to looking at the classical model of slowly accumulated incremental changes in a new way.

    Gould, too, it must here be added, began as a paleontologist — and that is a scientist who studies ancient life. He, and fellow paleontologists like Niles Eldredge, Elisabeth Vrba, and others, became somewhat dissatisfied by the conventional explanations of what seemed to be sharp differentiations between species on one “side” of some important divide in ancient geological time, and a later period in geological time, and by the failure of intermediate fossils to appear for many types of species that could confirm by their presence the classical Darwinian gradualistic model of slowly accumulated changes over vast stretches of geological time.

    Gould also took great pains to state he was not arguing that individual species were the primary vehicles of what he called “true saltations,” i.e., abrupt changes, as had been wrongly attributed by adversaries of punctuated equilibrium to him and his colleagues in evolutionary paleontology holding to his view. Rather, he placed his theory firmly in the context of the vastness of geological time.

    I noted in reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” that Dawkins referred to the Cambrian Explosion as the “so-called Cambrian Explosion,” and the only reason Dawkins would have put that phrase, “so-called,” in there is, Dawkins to this day cannot accept the thesis of Gould, Eldredge, and others holding to the model of punctuated equilibrium that this enormous proliferation of life forms which emerged at the time of the Cambrian era did, in fact, emerge over what, in geological time, seems a quite relatively brief moment or instant of time (over maybe 10 thousand years or a bit more, which in geological time frames is almost an instant in time). Geologists deal with the ages of rocks and the actual crust of the earth over time, and those ages are dated to literally billions upon billions of years. I recently just completed watching Ken Burns’ series on the national parks in the United States, and one of the people interviewed made the point that when he as a child visited the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River with his family, and the park ranger explained that some of the rocks in that park were in the range of billions of years old, that changed that child’s life, and made him determined to do something having to do with working with the national parks. He himself ended up working for the National Park Service.

    But the point here is, geologists have quite accurate ways of measuring the longevity and ages of rocks, and of the fossil remains in said rocks, and paleontologists use some of the same methods of dating which geologists use. When I used to argue against creationists and “intelligent design” anti-evolutionists, and they would say stuff like, “Carbon dating is not reliable,” I would immediately say, “But in rocks over 50 thousand years old, they don’t use carbon dating; they use uranium dating,” and I remembered that from the reading I did as a child about dinosaurs and how fossils are dated. And that remains the case today. Geologists and paleontologists, if they suspect rock formations are older than 50 thousand years, will use uranium dating to date them, not carbon dating. Just finding that a rock formation is older than 10 thousand years immediately knocks — quite literally — into a cocked hat all the crap against evolution on the part of “intelligent design” types, and, by the way, that Dover court case in Pennsylvania some years ago made it quite clear that “intelligent design” is simply the contemporary example of what “creationism” and “creation science” used to be, and that the “intelligent design” types were entirely and thoroughly unethical to an extreme degree in their totalitarian aim to get their politics of hatred for the separation of religion and government — their politics of support for the medievalist totalitarian principle of unification of church and state — shoved down the throats of the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, like their national counterparts of the religious right are throughout America today, not only with regard to the theory of evolution, but with regard to the rights of women to abortions, the rights of gay and transgender people to equality, and the rights of seriously terminally ill and in pain people to make end of life decisions enabling them to pull the plug on themselves if they so choose to end their own suffering. The real issue cutting through all these issues is, separation of church and state, and that’s what the religious right-wing totalitarians want to get rid of. That is what is in back of their agenda in all these other issues that seem to the average observer disconnected. Leastwise, that’s my view on the matter.

    By the way, one last comment here.

    The late Stephen Jay Gould’s model of punctuated equilibrium was often entirely misquoted or quoted entirely out of context by the protagonists of “creationism” or “intelligent design” to try to convey to the population that the theory of evolution was in trouble in some way, shape, or form. As a result of their dishonest in quoting Gould out of context, he became so angered by their lack of ethics that he not only utterly refused to debate them or allow himself on the same podium with them, but he advised all scientific colleagues of his, including Richard Dawkins, as Dawkins himself explained in Dawkins 2002 obituary on Gould in the secular humanist magazine, “Free Inquiry,” against debating them. Gould argued that any legitimate scientist debating these “intelligent design” or “creationist” type people simply gave them a podium and a claim for their own credibility and legitimacy which, to Gould, they entirely lacked.

    Furthermore, Gould became one of the key expert witnesses in defense of the complete truth of evolutionary theory in many courtrooms, seeking to keep the teaching of the essentially religious claims of creationism and “intelligent design” out of public and tax-supported classrooms as a crossing of the boundary of church-state separation, a principle Gould strongly supported while alive.

    –Allan Greene
    Email: tompaine1917@yahoo.com

  14. Laura Irizarry says:

    I just wanted to say THANKS, this has been a long time discussion between my husband and me for a long time, my daughter and my niece both have hand mannerisms and gestures that my mother had, and they never met her, so we have always thought there must be more to our genes then we know. I think this is just WOW, and I wonder, if the children with Autism could benefit from purging the high levels of mercury from their systems. It worked wonders on the people in and around Chernobyl

  15. Perry says:

    I watched this awhile ago and would like to obtain a dvd copy of the documentary. Does anyone know where I could obtain/purchase a copy?

  16. Fascinating but the end result appears to be contra to the purpose of natural selection, ie change in response to environmental stimuli serves to weaken the organism and subsequent generations. What can be the purpose of such a process? The impact of this seems the selection of negative traits which is an average plan at best, we should be extinct by now.

    • Eocene says:

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Doug. All the examples shown seemed highly degenerative and touched on subjects many do not like to confront, as Marcus Pembrey touched on at the end of that documentary. This is the responsible way in which we make life choices and yes even moral choices, but that subject is taboo in out modern world of if it feels good “Do It”.

      It also raises questions about the morality of some scientific endeavors, like the invention of various chemicals and pesticide uses. It brings up long term accountability issues with regards any future court cases dealing with irresponsible companies.

      Great documentary to say the least.

  17. John Hatchard says:

    Professors Pembury and Bygen have done humanity an incredible favour with this work. It is only now that the technical basis for microbiological substantiation of their findings has been available.
    Two hundred years ago that technology wasn’t available. A decent microscope was finally made in the early 1700s but that did not stop Dr Samuel Hahnemann, some 50 years later, asking very similar questions to those raised by Prof. Pembury. After much thought and investigation of acute and chronic illness he classified the latter in his Theory of Miasms. (His ‘Organon of the Medical Art’ edited by Wenda Brewster O’Reilly Birdcage 1996 is the most readable edition) He first noted all chronic diseases that seemed to have a common source in what are now termed STDs and suggested their origin lay in the circumstance under which a forebear had acquired either syphilis of gonorrhea whose effects had not been completely removed. Somehow, a permanent ‘stain or miasm’ had been lodged in the organism which was then transmitted to later generations.
    Such a finding was and still is very controversial in orthodox medical circles but this has not prevented it from being one of the most useful diagnostic concepts in the Homoeopathic arsenal.
    Now, as the newly emerging field of epigenetics is similarly still under scrutiny the big question is what spin off will there be in the treatment of conditions arising from these findings.
    One thing is sure, as noted by an earlier correspondent, our public leaders be they political or corporate will somehow have to brought to account for the consequences of their actions or inaction with regard to the welfare of those they have opted to lead.
    And how come that the Jews knew all about the ‘sins’ of the fathers being ‘visited upon the children over successive generations thousands of years ago? It is good to know that we are at last catching up.

  18. [...] and life experiences. And it’s not only our own life experiences we must consider, but also our mother’s when we were in the womb. If mom is struggling, the baby can be more prone to anxiety, and to [...]

  19. List of antibiotics…

    [...]Epigenetics – The ghost in your genes « BioethicsBytes[...]…

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