Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekend Movie: From Womb to Womb

Biological Anthropologist Julienne Rutherford has a fascinating talk available online that is a short but nice overview of the effect of epigenetics from womb to womb. Essentially she discusses the effects on the intrauterine environment, and whether the womb that we develop in affects the womb that our female offspring produce when they reproduce. The purpose is to understand how we pass down, generation to generation, the effects of our socio-ecological environment. Put another way, how our grandmother's life affects our life, and the lives of ensuing generations.

Her talk covers how placentas play a role, how Life Course Theory is part of it, but isn't the whole picture, and how studying primates can help us get an idea of the impact of intrauterine environments on the health and lives of future offspring.
"We are more than our genes. Genes get switched on and off constantly. All the DNA in our bodies in all the cells is essentially identical, but some get turned on, some get turned off...
But even more subtley, gene expression can be affected by our environment in the now, in the lived experience. Molecules attach to the DNA, which sort of locks it down, so its inexpressible - can't get turned on. This phenomenon is called epigenetics. Epi = beyond, above. Something beyond just the molecule themselves. How are the molecules regulated.
We know from a variety of experiments and observations in humans and other animals that the lived experience of an organism can have enormous impacts on how the genes are regulated. We also know that some of these molecular locks can be inherited along with the DNA itself. So, for ex, some genes in the stress pathway of maternal ,fetal, and placental tissues are regulated differently in people who have experienced poor nutrition, poor rearing behavior... high levels of psychosocial stress, institutional racism and discrimination, and the experience of war..."

It's one more argument for improving social and economic environments in order to improve a population's health and future potential. People often think that a poor or unhealthy person can just "do better" to make themselves healthier or more wealthy, but so much depends on our socio-ecological environments, and that of our ancestors.
"The placenta contains the mysteries of the past and predictions for the future..."

You can view Dr. Rutherford's 23 minute presentation on the website for the Cusp Conference 2014.

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