The Ghost in Your Genes

The conventional understanding of genetics is that you are born with a set of unchanging genes, some of which you pass on to your children before some cop catches you unintentionally making a baby in the back seat of your car. Whatever else you may do in life has no genetic effect on your children. In a way, this now conventional view is a recapitulation of Darwin's victory over Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck thought that life experiences, such as a giraffe stretching its neck to reach the high leaves on a tree, would be inherited by an organism's offspring in the next generation. Ridiculous.

... or so we thought. There seems to be growing evidence that environmental factors can actually trigger genes to switch on or off, and that this can cause heritable genetic differences in future generations. In other words, what you do with your own body can affect your future children and grandchildren at the genetic level. Talk about responsibility!

These phenomena, known as epigenetic effects, are explored and explained in today's fascinating documentary. Because we do not yet know the mechanism responsible for the transmission of epigenetic information, you will have to forgive the euphemistic attribution of purpose, memory and intentional states to genes in the language of the narrative.

It's interesting that once the correlation between epigenetic effects and the production of sperm and egg cells is revealed, everything suddenly makes a whole lot of sense, isn't it?
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