Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Epigenetics, Smoking and Addiction

Epigenetics is the process by which some trait of a parent is transmitted to an offspring through non-genetic and non-social means (Wikipedia: "...anything other than DNA sequence that influences the development of an organism.")

Over at National Geographic we see this article: "Mice Inherit Specific Memories, Because of Genetics?" by Virginia Huges. (You can find the original article here but you'd have to pay $32 to read it even though its quite likely your tax dollars paid for its research, content and writing.)

Epigenetics has been somewhat "out of fashion" for a number of years but this paper brings it back to the fore.  Basically the idea is that mice taught that a certain smell is bad somehow seem to pass this on to subsequent generations through a reproductive process, i.e., with all the possibility of social and environmental transmission removed, that transcends DNA, i.e., the DNA itself is not directly altered, yet the offspring still avoid the bad smell.

The article is straight forward and an easy read.

The same topic is also covered here at ArsTechnica.

Of course, modern science never stops to think about the implications of this.

What about a positive reward rather than a negative one (in the paper above mice are given a specific smell and a corresponding shock - the fear of the specific smell is what's passed on to the subsequent generation)?

Could there be, perhaps, a propensity to smoke, for example, based on a similar process?

By the same line of reasoning, again, as an example, your parents might smoke and indirectly pass a preference for smoking on to you, their offspring, through a similar process.

One might argue that there was a epigenetic reason for being a smoker (or drinker, and so on).

So your parents biology is somehow responsible for the reason you are now a social outcast.

Someone whom is picked on, bullied, and ridiculed for smoking.

Yet what if the very reason you smoke is biological - just like hair color, skin color, and all the other myriad of things that people are bullied for...?

Everyone agrees that its "bad" to bully someone of, for example, another race than your own.

But what about bully for epigenetic traits?

The mice, for example, bullying their cousins for fearing a certain smell.  (In this case you'd demonstrate the effect of the Nature article on one "branch" of the family but not another, e.g., one cousin is so trained but not another.

Now mouse cousin A can ridicule mouse cousin B for a seemingly unexplainable fear of a smell.

Now imagine how this might translate into children...

Well, actually, we don't have to.

We can see that those who smoke, despite decades of put down, ridicule, and "re-education" continue to smoke.

And, at least to my mind, smoking tends to run in families (and yes, maybe its all social), but the point of this post is that we don't know.

The mere possibility of epigenetics having a roll in the outcome of our children really says that there may, in fact, be biological reasons that people smoke other than addiction.

Of course, this could apply to many other things as well, drug use, drinking, abusive behavior, fearful behavior, the list is endless.

The point is simple: science understands very little about why things occur, yet, just like Facebook, is happy to assist in the bullying and ridicule of what may in fact be something over which an individual has no control.

No comments:

Post a Comment