Sunday, June 21, 2009

Epigenetics, Chi Cultivation, And Cellular Evolution

I might be over my head on this one.
Last week, I learned about the term "Epigenetics", and spent the last two days reading scientific journals, even contacting a scientist in an attempt to get to the bottom of this. Look, I know next-to-nothing about Microbiology. To me, a science experiment is brewing Beer. Let's start with a scientific definition of "Epigenetics":
“An epigenetic trait is a stably inherited phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.” Shilatifard and colleagues have also proposed three categories of signals that operate in the establishment of a stably heritable epigenetic state. The first is a signal from the environment, the second is a responding signal in the cell that specifies the affected chromosomal location, and the third is a sustaining signal that perpetuates the chromatin change in subsequent generations." (link embedded)
--So what the hell does this mean?
The study of Epigenetics refers to how environmental influences can alter cell structure and DNA information that can be genetically inherited. This is to say, something you do, or something that happens to you, can be inserted into your very DNA and passed on to future generations. You can see the huge implications of this, and many scientists consider "Soft Inheritance" to be a slippery slope in scientific study.
All of the research I saw refered to the study of Epigenetics regarding inherited disease factors, such as Lupus, Autism or Cancer.
But what if self-introspective practices such as meditation or internal energy cultivation also cause genetic changes, perhaps that can be passed on to offspring?
In the groundbreaking book "The Aquarian Conspiracy; Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time", Marilyn Ferguson describes How meditative mind-body practices re-wire our brain and body: (pp 168-169)
"Inward attention, in other words, generates a larger fluction in the brain. In altered states of consciousness, fluctuations may reach a critical level, large enough to provoke the shift into a higher level of organization... Larger fluctuations of energy cannot be contained in the old structure. They set off ripples throughout the system, creating sudden new connections.. (this theory) helps to account for the dramatic effects sometimes seen in meditation, hypnosis, or guided imagery".
-- Now, what Ferguson refers to is a mechanical change in brain and body. What Epigenetics may suggest is that we may not be only re-wiring our Brain, but actually facilitating changes in cell structure and "soft inheritence" in DNA.
Eric Richards, PhD professor of biology in Washington University, St. Louis states:
"To get to the issue of the more extreme variations of soft inheritance, it has to be determined whether the environment can induce an epigenetic change in an organism that can be inherited in subsequent generations. Certainly, nobody has shown that an epigenetically induced beneficial or adaptive change has been inherited. Mechanistically, there is no reason to discount epigenetic inheritance. The biochemical nuts and bolts are there to support it. The big questions to resolve are how many epigenetic changes are induced by the environment, what types of phenotypes result from these changes, and how many of these epigenetic changes are inherited."
(link embedded)
--For further clairification I wrote Trevor Covert, editor of "Epigenetic News", with my questions about whether any studies questioned if practices such as meditation or internal energy cultivation could create positive Epigenetic changes. Here's his response:

Hi John,
Thanks for writing in with your question. I have not seen any scientific
studies on any epigenetic changes that might occur with meditation, etc.
However, there have been studies showing that DNA methylation patterns
change over a person's lifetime, as well as changes in methylation due to
dietary choices (i.e. There are some foods that have been shown to influence
changes in DNA methylation).
Some DNA methylation patterns have been shown to be correlated to a person's
susceptibility to cancer. Other diseases are also thought to be possibly
linked to DNA methylation, although few have been linked conclusively. This
is a very new field that is being studied aggressively so I expect that more
about what kind of changes in health/disease risk are linked to behaviors
and lifestyle choices will be uncovered in the coming years.
Thanks again for the question.
Trevor Covert
Faculty Research Associate
Washington State University
School of Molecular Biosciences
Pullman, WA 99164-4234

--So, as it seems, the research in this field is clearly looking at environmental influences that cause disease in the human body, perhaps passed on to future generations.
But, what if the opposite is also true?
For instance, in a metaphysical sense, could this explain something like generational Karma? Or what about "The Demon Seed"?
Studies have shown how the stress of big-city life with all the stimulation, electric fields and noise cause ill-health in it's residents. Perhaps an inherited neurosis?
What about introspective energy cultivation? Can it cause positive cellular changes that can also be passed on genetically?
Is this the next step of human evolution?

"We are stardust,
we are golden
we are billion-year-old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden"--
- Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock"


BSM said...

Two things:

1. Brewing beer IS scientific. Chemistry explains it perfectly!

2. We ARE nothing but stardust.


Steve Perry said...

I think the science on this one hasn't been established. It's nice to think that some skill you learned could be passed on to your offspring, but the nature-versus-nurture argument in this case swings way to the nuture side. If I am a writer and my children become writers, is it because they got it in a genetic endowment, or because they grew up in a house were reading and writing were part of the environment?

So far, the evidence says the latter.

I think this is going to be like trying to pin down ki or chi or tenaga dalam. Yes, there are folks who seem to be able to call upon energies the rest of us have trouble finding, but I suspect that when enough evidence is in, those energies will turn out to be something simple -- efficient breathing and an ability to focus and concentrate, maybe -- that isn't the least bit woo-woo ...

Dojo Rat said...

Well, I guess I was refering to evolutionary change, not just "booklearning".
I mean, from Shamans to Timothy Leary, they believed that the psychedelic experiance was evolving man. Now science suggests that bad things can be inherited (disease). If bad things can be inherited, then good things must also. That is, what if by practicing Chi Kung, meditation or such, you are evolving your cellular structure, perhaps passing on a more sophisticated DNA roadmap to future generations?

Dojo Rat said...

Inherited due to environmental causes, I should say.