Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pay attention, there will be a quiz

So, I snuggled up with two of my best friends last night, two friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. Before you start to get ideas, it was the PBS program NOVA and Frontline.

Yeah, not only do I count tv programs as my friends, I count tv programs that don’t even have a fictionalized story line or a good looking host. Am I the only person in the world that loves the narrator of Frontline a little too much? He can narrate my life any day because he could make blowing my nose sound meaningful.

I’ve fallen into the satellite tv trap of sitting there, bitching about how rotten it is, but not turning the channel over to real tv programs that actually make me use my brain. And seriously, who hasn’t wanted to interrupt their spouse when they are on an irritating rant about the current political situations of the world with the terse admonition “Can you keep it down???? I’m trying to learn about the epigenome!”

Some people can be sooooo rude.

Anyway, last night on Nova, the show was on epigenetics. It’s sort of the secret genome that no one talks about because, you know, no one likes a know-it-all. (For some reason, Nova made a more intelligent statement than that). But the upshot of it is this: for years we’ve been told that genetics play this huge part in our health and who we are. Come to find out, the epigenome is in charge of turning on and off different cells which can cause two identical twins to have very different genetic profiles as they grow older. This is how one twin can get cancer while the other twin doesn’t. The epigenome can be manipulated by environmental factors such as smoking, famine, and pesticides and psychological factors such as stress and abuse. This means that diseases caused by stress can be encoded into genes two, three, or more generations before you were born and you can pay the price for it. The same goes for smoking or pesticides or a whole plethora of things.

I find this fascinating and disturbing. Now, there are scientists that don’t go in for this but I’m pretty much convinced. They showed an interesting case of identical twins where one twin was “normal” and the other twin had severe autism. So, this might be an interesting area of study for people trying to unlock why autism has been on the rise. It’s also especially interesting to think of how we are all exposed to pesticides and that we might be exponentially screwing ourselves generation after generation.

And this is what I thought about this morning as I watched my son place his order before me at Starbucks. It was the same order that I make. And when he ate his pumpkin loaf? He ate all the crust off first AS ANY CIVILIZED PERSON DOES. And when he smiles, he smiles like my brother of whom he has only met once as a baby.

Sometimes, genetics are cool.

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