Can your lifestyle affect your grandchildren's health? Maybe ...
Here we are not discussing the question of whether, if grandpa is a falldown drunk, the grandkids might lack opportunities in life. Of course they will. They might not have the money for college or a good trade school, and they might be tempted to take the same refuge he did.
But could it affect their genes as well?
Was Lamarck right (he said yes) or Darwin right (he said no)?
In ""Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong" (Oliver Burkeman, Guardian, March 19, 2010), we learn
As years of bestselling books by Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others have seeped into the culture, we've come to understand that the awesome power of natural selection ... .Actually, I knew something was wrong when I saw how Darwinists kept going to court to force taxpayers to fund Darwin in the school system. Something was happening that wasn't science. Then I discovered that 78% of evolutionary biologists are "pure naturalists" (= no God and no free will - maybe no actual mind either?). They did not learn this from science. They front it as a religion at tax expense, and get away with it, due to citizen apathy.
Yet epigenetics suggests this isn't the whole story. If what happens to you during your lifetime – living in a stress-inducing henhouse, say, or overeating in northern Sweden – can affect how your genes express themselves in future generations, the absolutely simple version of natural selection begins to look questionable. Rather than genes simply "offering up" a random smorgasbord of traits in each new generation, which then either prove suited or unsuited to the environment, it seems that the environment plays a role in creating those traits in future generations, if only in a short-term and reversible way. You begin to feel slightly sorry for the much-mocked pre-Darwinian zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose own version of evolution held, most famously, that giraffes have long necks because their ancestors were "obliged to browse on the leaves of trees and to make constant efforts to reach them". As a matter of natural history, he probably wasn't right about how giraffes' necks came to be so long. But Lamarck was scorned for a much more general apparent mistake: the idea that lifestyle might be able to influence heredity. "Today," notes David Shenk, "any high school student knows that genes are passed on unchanged from parent to child, and to the next generation and the next. Lifestyle cannot alter heredity. Except now it turns out that it can . . ."
Epigenetics is the most vivid reason why the popular understanding of evolution might need revising, but it's not the only one.
Incidentally, it does not make any sense to me that Darwin could have been right about this, because genes/chromosomes/DNA might easily be affected by unhealthy lifestyles. Everything else is.
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose
Catching up with the Inbox, while dealing with many practical issues around here, note these new storie:.
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