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October 22, 2008

My Quest for the Autism Holy Grail.

Epigenetics?

I love my readers; you are quite the knowledgeable bunch.  Just when I get comfortable with one topic, the most recent being Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, you throw me another bone.

Fetch, girl, fetch!!!

Not knowing what in the world ‘epigenetics’ was, I jumped in my hovercraft and headed back down the Information Superhighway.

I took an exit that seemed to offer the best explanation, we laypeople, might understand.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The modern usage of the word is more narrow, referring to heritable traits (over rounds of cell division and sometimes transgenerationally) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence.

Still confused?  Here’s another way to look at it.

The Greek prefix epi- in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” genetics; thus epigenetic traits exist on top of or in addition to the traditional molecular basis for inheritance.

Still not getting it?

Head on over to Nova scienceNOW and watch a video featuring “Randy Jirtle, a geneticist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Duke.  He answers viewer questions about epigenetics and how our lifestyles might affect the health of our children and even grandchildren.”

{Don’t have popcorn?  Got lots of spare time?  Then kick up your feet and enjoy reading the transcript or you can peruse this article written about another geneticist and his similar findings.}

In the clip, Randy offers us a clear translation for what epigenetics is.

Epigenetics literally translates into just meaning “above the genome.” So if you would think, for example, of the genome as being like a computer, the hardware of a computer, the epigenome would be like the software that tells the computer when to work, how to work, and how much.

We’re a techy world, therefore, we need techy-like explanations.

After watching this clip, I took off like Buzz Lightyear and headed to my time machine.  I wanted to travel back and take a look at how my genes were influenced by my parents and grandparents.

Not knowing my biological father, I couldn’t look at the paternal side of my genetic influencing.  However, my stepfathers (my mother married twice) both smoked like coal mining factories.

My mother and grandmother loved to clean with bleach and ammonia.

And no one in my family could tolerate bugs.  Therefore, when Raid was introduced to the market, it quickly became an extra appendage for my clan.

Oh, and I have southern roots, so comfort foods were like regulars at the local bucket o’ blood on our daily menu (fried this-or-that, mashed something-or-other, or something’s liver smothered in onions.  You get the picture.)

Fast-forwarding to my early adult life (life before 35), I wasn’t eco-conscious or organic at all.

I thought people who recycled had “issues” and were obsessed with hoarding (i.e. hanging on to their trash AND separating it).

Fuel efficient cars were just a means to give me less car and still pay more.  Bigger and faster meant better.

Don’t even get me started on how I felt about folks who lived in communes, who grew/raised their own food and had compost heaps abound.

And vegetarians and vegans were, quite frankly, “weird”.  How could you NOT love a big ol’ juicy steak accompanied with green beans cooked in bacon fat and taters slathered in meat gravy???

What was WRONG with all these people?

Enter parenthood!  And unexpected yet necessary component to my personal growth.

As I neared/pulled 40, I became more conscious of the world around me.

Being self-absorbed most of my life, I came to the “sudden” realization that I had to stop thinking about myself and start doing more for the world around me.

Bear in my mind that this realization didn’t take effect until my son was almost 4 years old!

Better late than never, I guess.

Well, I’ve become one of those folks with “issues” aka “crunchy” {wink}, and I now reduce, recycle and reuse whatever I can.

Yes, I have a compost heap, but I still don’t quite know what I’m doing.

And I still do not have any desire to live in a commune.  I still have my mental limits/blocks.  {smile}

I hope my lifestyle changes, albeit late in my son’s life, will have a positive effect on his offspring and generations to follow.

Seems like that environmental-hereditary-autism connection is coming through a little clearer now, doesn’t it?

My quest for the autism holy grail (causation) continues… (insert Star Trek’s theme song here.)

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