Thanks to Joost G. Wouters for the alert to this nonsense:
1) Michael White in Pacific Standard magazine flatly states that “Epigenetics Is Not Revolutionizing Biology.”
2) Adrian Bird points out in the journal Cell that many of the field’s assumptions and promises remain unproven and are perhaps excessive.
1) White’s article sketches the field’s promise and hype, from questionable epigenetic diets and wild claims about controlling genes with your thoughts. He follows with a summary of epigenetics, then runs through a list of his ridiculous qualms about the field. White paraphrases, “the hype has outrun the science” at a time when serious scientists are Combating Evolution to Fight Disease by integrating everything known about epigenetic links between metabolic networks and genetic networks.
“…scientists have long been aware that our genes aren’t chiseled in stone—they are in a constant dialogue with our environment,” White says. Obviously, he means “gene expression” is not chiseled in stone because the epigenetic landscape is linked to the physical landscape of DNA in all organized genomes by RNA-mediated events. But that point gets glossed over in his excited attack on everything he thinks is not supported by what is currently known about physics, chemistry, and molecular epigenetics.
He doesn’t like the fact that many of the field’s supposed findings for humans — say, that you can inherit specific fears — are based entirely on animal studies, although that is the basis for nearly everything incorporated into today’s medical practice. And of course, pseudoscientists make an issue of whether epigenetic marks are truly a cause or an effect of changes wrought on gene expression by other factors. They have no concept of how the epigenetic landscape is linked via sensory input to the physical landscape of DNA.
White says, “There is no reason to believe that drugs, treatments, or health advice that target these DNA markings will be unusually effective compared to therapies that aren’t specifically epigenetic.” He concludes that it’s overall a good development, but perhaps we need to mind the hype. But see: Clinically Actionable Genotypes Among 10,000 Patients With Preemptive Pharmacogenomic Testing. It links what is also known about nutritional epigenetics to biologically-based cause and effect in species from microbes to man.
2) Edinburgh University’s Adrian Bird writes in the journal Cell about the overblown idea that biology is undergoing some sort of revolutionary turmoil, only part of which is due to epigenetics.
“So that’s not *junk* DNA?”, “What’s the definition of a gene?”, and “What how much effect does long, non-coding RNA actually have?” These issues consume the article’s first half, but he really gets rolling later. We have good evidence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in precious few places, which include C. elegans inheritance of RNA-based viral resistance. That Swedish “hunger winter” stuff is interesting, but hardly rigorous just yet.
And anyway, says Bird, why would passing along diabetes or obesity — as with the hunger winter — be some sort of adaptive mechanism? After all, perhaps the apparently inherited traits just result from malfunctions in the slate-wiping that every animal seems to do early in development.’
My comment: Viral resistance is nutrient-dependent and in animals it is controlled by the metabolism of nutrients to species-specific pheromones that control the physiology of reproduction. Thanks to Joost for permission to use pars of his original introduction, with alterations. He wrote: “No permission required on my part…”