Volume 25 | Issue 3 | Page 14
By Andrew D. Ellington
Epigenetics and Society
Did Erasmus Darwin foreshadow the tweaking of his grandson’s paradigm?
The potent wish in the productive hour
Calls to its aid Imagination’s power,
O’er embryon throngs with mystic charm presides,
And sex from sex the nascent world divides…
—Erasmus Darwin, “The Temple of Nature,” Canto II
I was first introduced to Charles Darwin’s flamboyant grandfather when I was an undergraduate searching through Michigan State’s wonderful Special Collections. In between bothering the curators for archived copies of Howard the Duck, I read Erasmus’s prose and poetry, and was treated to a great mind grappling with ideas that presaged one of the truly great ideas of modern times, the theory of evolution. As the passage above hints, Erasmus believed that environmental influences, in particular the “Imagination” of the parents, greatly influenced the phenotype of the child.
How very pre-Victorian (and post-). Erasmus anticipated Charles in many ways, but surprising results in the field of epigenetics—heritable (and reversible) changes in gene expression—suggest that he may have been very far ahead of his time indeed. In the current issue, David Berreby cites the increasing body of work that correlates childhood trauma with DNA methylation with suicide. One’s personal epigenome is modified by environmental perturbations, and that influences behavior. Certainly the Victorians could have related to the notion of an Original Sin that made its heritable mark on the genomes of parents created innocent, passing the curse down to their descendants. That said, the Victorians did have their biases, and it was of course the father who had the predominant influence over the child. But recently published studies of genetic imprinting show that the two parents’ influence on their offspring is more akin to a tug of war.
The Lamarckian idea that giraffes’ reaching for leaves resulted in longer-necked progeny seems silly to us today, primarily because we know so very much about the underlying mechanisms of genetics. And yet Lamarck may have a last laugh—think inheritance patterns in ciliates, or the effect of diet on the coat color of agouti mouse offspring. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in our understanding of how evolution can act…on evolution, yielding mechanisms that allow both adaptation and heritability within the course of a lifetime. And such paradigm shifts almost always have societal consequences. Manel Esteller shows that epigenetics also impacts the “dark genome” in a way that may improve cancer diagnostics. An even more far-reaching consequence is that it may prove possible to engineer epigenetics, as Bob Kingston’s Thought Experimenttacitly suggests. If so, will epigenetic engineering be subject to the same restrictions as genetic engineering? Or will this be a way that we can not merely treat disease, but possibly engineer human health into future generations?
Read more here/Leia mais aqui: The Scientist
NOTA TRIUNFANTE DESTE BLOGGER:
Quando iniciei este blog em 2006, escrevi:
"Sou pós-darwinista me antecipando à iminente e eminente ruptura paradigmática em biologia evolutiva."
A Nomenklatura científica e a Galera dos meninos e meninas de Darwin riram da minha cara. Em ciência, nada como um dia atrás do outro. Andrew D. Ellington, do Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, da Universidade do Texas, em Austin, TX, escreveu:
"We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in our understanding of how evolution can act…on evolution, yielding mechanisms that allow both adaptation and heritability within the course of a lifetime. And such paradigm shifts almost always have societal consequences."
Como é bom ser vindicado, especialmente pelos cientistas evolucionistas.
Erasmus Darwin previu a queda da teoria da evolução do seu neto Charles Darwin? Pensar que Darwin desceu o cacete na teoria da evolução do avô e disse que não ficou nenhum um pouco impressionado com ela, e agora o avô Erasmus é que está certo e o neto Darwin está errado? Lamarck redivivus??? Essa teoria da evolução, realmente, é um samba epistemológico do crioulo doido. Traduzindo em graúdos: um Smörgåsbord teórico, um conglomerado de ideias conflitantes. Pobre ciência...
Lá, lá, lá, lá, lá, lá, lá, lá...