Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bye Bye Nurture Versus Nature

Interesting Science Times special issue "Beyond the Gene" in the New York Times last week, November 11. Just when we think we have some answers about the human genome, many new puzzles have popped up. Scientists are now saying that what we think of as our "genes" those strings of letters that we had thought resulted in sensitive blue eyes or autoimmune diseases or autism, even, account for something around 1 percent of the human genome, the true mover and shakers being the proteins in the RNA. Fascinating stuff. No more arguing over nurture versus nature either. There's a complex interplay genes and the environment that we're just starting to disentangle. Some proteins seems to turn on and off the expression of genes - thereby changing the phenotype without any changes to the genotype (the underlying genes). And this is mind-blowing, people studying these epigentic changes, have found that these changes occur across generations. So a grandma rat who has a gene for some cancer can change her diet and turn off the expression of the "cancer gene" - not only for herself, but her children - all who will not develop cancer despite carrying the gene for it. Wow. Powerful stuff. The trick is to figure out what turns these switches on and off. But as some researchers have cautioned, turning one off may activate another...

Still, great food for thought.

1 comment:

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