The Ghost in Your Genes
I often read Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter for news and other events in the field. Today I found a post about an interesting BBC article concerning genetics and biology. Horizon is a science and discovery series that has been running on the BBC since 1964. They recently discussed a revolution among some scientists concerning the way genes work and our genetic history and biology.
This group of scientists is promoting epigenetics. This is the theory that hidden influences on our genes could be impacting our lives. Epigeneticists believe that genes have “memory,” and that experiences can influence our genes, turning them on and off. Evidence is also accumulating that these switches can be passed down, impacting descendants.
The first evidence of this is from a remote village in Sweden:
“Lying in Överkalix’s parish registries of births and deaths and its detailed harvest records is a secret that confounds traditional scientific thinking. Marcus Pembrey, a Professor of Clinical Genetics at the Institute of Child Health in London, in collaboration with Swedish researcher Lars Olov Bygren, has found evidence in these records of an environmental effect being passed down the generations. They have shown that a famine at critical times in the lives of the grandparents can affect the life expectancy of the grandchildren.”
This movement is creating a significant paradigm shift in scientific thinking, especially in the areas of biology and genetics. As with all paradigm shifts, this is not coming without pushback from the established scientific community. It does go against what thinking has been to date. But fortunately science, like genealogy, is based on evidence and analysis.
It will be very interesting to see where the research of the epigeneticists takes them. It will be even more interesting to see how this might impact some of the thinking in the area of genetic genealogy.