Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Discover Article: DNA is not your destiny

Here's a little change of pace. I was reading the November 2006 issue of Discover magazine and I came across an article describing the idea that we are not simply hard-wired for many of our traits--even the genetic ones.

(If I get too technical, which I know I will, and you want me to explain what I'm talking about to you: Try reading the article first, if that doesn't help, email me, and I'll see what I can do.)

While I don't want to get into a big philosophical argument, personally I do not believe in genetic determinism for the most part. This is basically the idea that we are a product of our genes.

The article describes some mechanisms through which we can change the way our genes are expressed: This can occur through the food we eat or even how one is raised. While there is much debate surrounding this issue still, I still like the idea that my notions are getting confirmed by science.

As well, with a little nod to Lamarck, the changes that occur to the expression of ones geneome may also be passed to future generations. This is to say that changes in habits that we make in our lives, can somehow be reflected in our offspring. This is quite a boot to the face of current neo-evolutionists. The idea of "inhereted acquired traits" is pretty weird.

Although I could talk about this for a long time, the reason I'm making this post is to share the article with you.

DNA is not your destiny: Page one, two, three, four, five, six and seven.

Feel free to discuss this article at the bottom, I have a lot of stuff to mention that I haven't gotten to. It's midnight, and I'm a little tired. So go and read this article; you may end up learning something incredible!

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)


  1. Hasn't Lamark been debunked?

  2. That was a fantastic article. It makes me wonder which activities will affect our epigenetic markers and how. I guess the first place to start is by drinking green tea. Maybe, if I play my cards right, my sons won't have to suffer premature hair loss after all.

  3. Tiara, Lamarck was considered to be wrong by most scientists of his time and well after, but this fairly new field of epigenetics demands revisiting his ideas.

  4. Just to say a little more about Lamarck and how it relates to this article:

    Lamarck proposed that we could inherit traits from our ancestors simply based on what they did. The giraffe example is pretty popular: the giraffe passes on long-neck genes from stretching for higher leaves.
    (Contrast Darwin: The giraffes with shorter necks die because they can't get enough food, leaving only longer-necked giraffes.)

    In this article it talk about how changes to our diet, say more green tea, can affect the expression of our already encoded genes. This can happen through a number of different ways, but let's just use methylation (adding a methyl group to parts of DNA). So in methylating some areas and not others, you can selectively deactivate or activate certain DNA.

    The funny thing here is that we may be able to pass this methylation (the DNA blockers) to our future generations. In effect, we are changing some habit in our life (eating habit) and it is affecting our offspring. This is similar (not quite the same though) as what Lamarck suggested: What you do now can affect your progeny.

    Although it doesn't work in the way Lamarck may have originally conceived, it is a bit closer to Larmarckism rather than Darwinism.

    If you are a fan of biology, or life for that matter, this is some pretty crazy stuff.

    (BTW, Tiara, I'm glad to see a new face/name in the comments section. Thanks for coming out.)

  5. You probably also read about the preliminary research that suggests giraffes didn't evolve long necks due to leaf-reaching, but rather for battling.

  6. Anonymous7:14 PM

    The funny thing about the giraffe example (potentially embarassing for both Darwin and Lamarck) is that giraffes mostly eat grass and shrubs and rarely reach to the tops of trees.

    Their long necks have also have huge tradeoffs (pressure build up in their brain when bending down to drink from ponds, or to graze) and don't seem to have much benefit today.

    For these reasons, there's a lot of controversy about using giraffe necks as a prime example of natural selection. Some research is suggesting that their long necks may be the product of sexual selection, and possibly involved in mating rituals. It's possible of course that their ancestors used long necks to eat off the tops of trees when food was scarce, but now giraffes go to grass when food is scarce. Talk to Dr. Chippendale about this...he'll be very excited!

  7. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Wow, Giraffes using long necks as a means of sexual selection. If only they had played a more predominant role in our social upbrining as a species. Imagine how far advanced our inuendo would be compared to today? Now that's evolution.


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