Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"We Are All Guardians of Our Genome."

As stated by Marcus Pembrey at the end of the NOVA program, "The Ghost in Your Genes".

Today was terribly hot. I now know the importance of knowing the climate of a potential college, and of knowing the heating or cooling capabilities of the dorms. Here at Brown, there is no air conditioning, so the rooms end up like saunas. My roommate and I set up our fans to form a system to circulate the air. In my room, we have four fans, which may seem excessive, but is actually not enough. When considering a future college, I'll be sure to inquire about the climate and how the college students deal with the climate. I wouldn't want to study at a college that is too hot, but I think I can deal with the cold. You can always put on another layer, but there is only so much you can take off.

Today's class was very interesting. In the morning, we began a microarray to analyze types of lung tissues. We also did some more polymerase chain reactions to amplify parts of DNA. We took a hair from our heads to take DNA out of and to amplify. This is significant because it allows forensic scientists to derive large amounts of DNA to perform tests on from trace amounts. It also is an easy way to isolate and replicate a segment to test for the presence of Alu segments which can affect the way our genes are expressed. In short, polymerase chain reactions are important in that they can affect gene expression and can help capture the bad guys at the same time.

During the afternoon lecture, we watched "The Ghost in Your Genes". It was a very interesting movie, which explained various genetic phenomena. It explored why, when twins approach old age, often one develops a serious medical condition but the other doesn't. This is due to environmental factors that effect the expression of genes. 

I was interested, because I have a twin, and I wanted to see what the future had in store for us. 

But the most interesting part was a study of a village in Europe, that had records of generations of villagers. The researchers eventually discovered two amazing facts. First, when a male child experiences famine during early childhood, his male grandchildren will have longer lifespans. When the male child experiences plenty during early childhood, his male grandchildren will suffer shorter lifespans. Second, when a female child experiences famine while in the mother's womb, the grandsons will suffer shorter lives. But when she experiences plenty, the grandsons will experience greater longevity. 

What makes this so interesting is that it shows that environmental factors can be inherited between generations, and it means that whatever actions we take today will affect our children tomorrow, not only what we do in the world, but also what we do to our bodies. It essentially turns life from a process of reproduction to a process of guarding our genome from damage so that our offspring will not suffer adverse affects. But scientists have yet do discover how these factors are inherited between generations and why our genome responds the way it does. It's baffling why our bodies act differently depending on whether it is the grandfather or grandmother that experiences the famine, why does it only affect the male offspring. But these questions will surely be answered in the future, and I hope that I'll be there when they finally are.
--Studying at the closest place with air conditioning, Arnold Lounge--


  1. Austin,

    After watching that movie, isn't your curiosity piqued? I mean, what would make a researcher look for a nexus in old records between the longevity of different generations separated by a complete generation and finding a relationship with famines? And then finding the difference between how this might affect males as opposed to females.

    And how do you come up with the conclusion that this longevity is the result of the availability of food as opposed to other factors such as war--a very common occurrence in European villages in the past couple of hundred years?

    I just find this fascinating but at the time I want more backup information to help me to believe what they're telling me. And as a good researcher, you need to be asking those very same questions. Don't just accept as fact what other people are telling you--especially when what they're telling you is as eye opening as this.

  2. According to the movie, the correlation of food versus longevity was constant throughout decades and generations, through many wars and difficult times. Throughout it all, there was always a link between the grandparents food and the grandson's longevity. I found it very interesting, and at first I was doubtful, but the movie did a very good job of explaining their research and reasoning.