Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Origin of Cultural Epigenetics

The Uncertain Gene - 11
I. Background

Once upon a time in the Dredd Blog System of 2009, I set a course to find out about why there is so much environmental dementia.

And how it was being passed around so promiscuously (e.g. Some Dementia Is Contagious, and links therein).

During that search, it became necessary to deepen the scope of the subject matter, because I felt that it was necessary to find out how the corruption of an individual mind takes place (About Toxins Of Power).

To increase the intensity of the focus of the search, I felt compelled to look at some of the cognitive centers in our brain structure, but especially those which have substantial degrees of cognitive autonomy.

As I look back, it is not surprising that I eventually settled on an entity called the amygdala  (The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere).

In terms of the person-to-person spread of that corruption, it was interesting to notice that various of those types of behaviors can be contagious (ibid, "Some Dementia Is Contagious" link above).

II. Expanding The Search

I then wondered how corruption spreads, in one degree or another, throughout a culture.

I hypothesized that since the amygdala was suspect in individuals, I had to also wonder if there was a cultural dynamic which was analogous to what was also in individuals (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala, 2, 3, 4).

III. Individual Epigenetics

Epigenetics is a main-stream scientific concept now (One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene?, On The Origin of Genieology).

Historical epigenetic evidence is being sought and found in ancient specimens now:
Epigenetic marks comprise a variety of stable, chemical modifications to DNA and its associated proteins that influence chromatin structure and regulate gene expression. These marks designate which genomic segments are available for transcription, providing a means for regulating gene activity without changing the underlying nucleotide sequence. Functionally, epigenetic gene regulation plays a crucial role in development, mediates gene-by-environment interactions, and underlies some complex diseases.

One widely studied type of epigenetic mark is cytosine methylation. In humans and other mammals, cytosines in CpG dinucleotide contexts are targets for epigenetic regulation via cytosine methylation. Methylated cytosines (most commonly 5-methylcytosine, or 5mC) in CpG dinucleotide contexts are vastly underrepresented in the human genome compared to other nucleotide bases and dinucleotide combinations, and are often concentrated in regions of high density, such as CpG islands. Other relatively CpG-rich regions of the genome include retrotransposable elements like Long Interspersed Elements (LINEs) and Short Interspersed Elements (SINEs), which are usually epigenetically inactivated through cytosine methylation to prevent aberrant transposition.

While cytosine methylation has been widely studied in extant species, relatively few studies have attempted to analyze epigenetic marks in the DNA of ancient or extinct organisms. Recently, however, several studies have indicated that cytosine methylation can be reconstructed in ancient specimens.
(Detection of Ancient Epigenetic Marks, emphasis added). I recently posted about a new book written by two evolutionists who see epigenetics as a tool for rescuing the theory from some of its flaws.

Yikes! Flaws in current evolutionary science (A New History of Life)?

IV. The Notion of Cultural Epigenetics

I have previously considered metaphors for the amygdala, as applied to cultural dynamics  (see Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala above).

But, I did not look at the work of a certain scientist, quoted in that post, closely enough to catch the application of it to epigenetic dynamics.

So, now let's expand that metaphor to the culture one lives in, but first let's revisit the work of that scientist:
Michael Skinner has just uttered an astounding sentence, but by now he is so used to slaying scientific dogma that his listener has to interrupt and ask if he realizes what he just said. Which was this: “We just published a paper last month confirming epigenetic changes in sperm which are carried forward transgenerationally. This confirms that these changes can become permanently programmed.”

... the life experiences of grandparents and even great-grandparents alter their eggs and sperm so indelibly that the change is passed on to their children, grandchildren, and beyond. It’s called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: the phenomenon in which something in the environment alters the health not only of the individual exposed to it, but also of that individual’s descendants.
(Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala). My focus was narrowed too much by the notion of an organ of society working on individuals.

But, clearly "something in the environment" which alters or guides genetic dynamics is the very essence of epigenetics.

The graphic at the top of this post depicts a dynamic where genes are impacted in some way by outside influence, power, energy, and the like, epigenetically.

The culture we are born into is exactly that: an outside influence, power, energy, and the like working to shape our behavior, and "who we are" (see eg. Choose Your Trances CarefullyIt Takes A Culture To Raise A Compulsive Liar).

V. Ok, What About The Origin Part?

Today, I can only hint at where this is going by alluding to Dredd Blog posts which consider the dynamics of the genes of viruses (On the Origin of the Genes of Viruses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

The hypothesis involved is that viruses were the first to traverse the gap between the abiotic and biotic realms (from abiotic molecular machine to biotic organism) (see e.g. The Abiology Rebellion).

The gist of it is that viruses were central to the dynamics involved in the first epigenetic dynamos.

Those dynamics changed a lot of genes and genomes:
If not for a virus, none of us would ever be born.

In 2000, a team of Boston scientists discovered a peculiar gene in the human genome. It encoded a protein made only by cells in the placenta. They called it syncytin.
What made syncytin peculiar was that it was not a human gene. It bore all the hallmarks of a gene from a virus.

Viruses have insinuated themselves into the genome of our ancestors for hundreds of millions of years.
It turned out that syncytin was not unique to humans. Chimpanzees had the same virus gene at the same spot in their genome. So did gorillas. So did monkeys. What’s more, the gene was strikingly similar from one species to the next.
(Are Toxins of Power Machines or Organisms?, quoting Discover Magazine). Dr. Peter Ward mentioned, in the video here, that viruses are the most likely candidates as gene traders which facilitated inexplicable evolutionary events such as the Cambrian Explosion.

One candidate dynamic of epigenetics that could have been working on the genes of viruses, when they were entirely abiotic, is most likely to have been proton tunnelling.

Proton tunnelling is still a recognized dynamic of quantum mechanics (The Uncertain Gene).

Thus, proton tunnelling has nothing exclusive to do with biology, which developed much, much later (compare Did Abiotic Intelligence Precede Biotic Intelligence? with The Uncertain Gene).

Note also that Dr. Peter Ward also hypothesizes that "microbial and/or viral intelligence" was sufficient to spur early biotic entities on to pull CO2 out of the early Earth's greenhouse atmosphere.

That type of, and degree of, intelligence is yet to be described in full.

It is a type of epigenetic dynamic that paved the way for the composition of our current atmospheric environment (again, that video is here).

VI. Conclusion

This first post in this new Dredd Blog series is getting a bit long, so I will expand upon these concepts in future posts.

Thanks to regular reader Tom for the link to the genetic research on ancient organisms.

Research that found epigenetic markers in ancient life forms, including humans.


  1. Thanks for translating the science so we can begin to understand it Dredd. i find this topic fascinating but am not well versed enough in biology, genetics, or chemistry to comprehend the papers that come out (being a math guy). For example, i'd never heard of syncytin until reading this post. i look forward to your development of this as you "connect the dots" and provide a more comprehensive picture of our possible origins (Lucy may not be our first mom), the effect of our changing environment on our progeny via epigenetics, and any new science that comes to bear on it all.

    What would make a species go off of an established sustainable environmental direction (hunting and gathering) and begin "going the wrong way" (developing agriculture and destroying megafauna as well as depleting soil and having to continually move to new locations)?

    Another great post Dredd. Keep 'em comin'!

    Missing link in evolution of complex cells discovered

    New human ancestor species from Ethiopia lived alongside Lucy's species


    1. Tom,

      "What would make a species go off of an established sustainable environmental direction (hunting and gathering) and begin "going the wrong way" (developing agriculture and destroying megafauna as well as depleting soil and having to continually move to new locations)?"

      In the context of epigenetics at the cultural level, the society may have made large-scale social mistakes that alienated part of the population to the point some had to flee to start a new culture elsewhere. If the environment was different they may have been forced into a different lifestyle. That was handed down culturally from generation to generation.

      What would cause the warring or quarreling that engendered the split could be engendered at the microbial / viral level (The Human Microbiome Congress).

      The mass-extinctions were epigenetic events that changed the behavior of microbes and viruses (What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?).

      Recent research indicates that microbes / viruses can be driven to pathogenic behavior, and can recover from it to once again become symbiotic mutualists (Communicating With The Underworld).

    2. Dredd,

      Thor Heyerdahl hypothesized, along with others, that this is what brought the Incas, Easter Islanders, and Polynesians to their ancient homelands. (link)

      At a much earlier time, it could have been at least one reason why humans left Africa through Egypt to go to Babylon, etc. (link)

    3. All that is interesting.

      We know that government evolved in early hominoid culture.

      That happened genetically and epigenetically in those who were hybrids.

      Such hybrids were composed of the relationship between a wild boar and a primate (The Germ Theory - of Government - 8).

      (At least the government of Georgia did.)

      Sometimes, neither establishment science nor establishment religion can handle hybrid theory. ;)

  2. A few posts back Tom mentioned, in a comment, a study that had found evidence of epigenetic activity on the genome of ancient humans.

    A large quantity of scientific hypotheses are controversial, sometimes for decades (Dr. Peter Ward who I quoted in this post above has run into that).

    In that light, as an example of genetic / epigenetic theory flux, consider this post (The Germ Theory - of Government - 8).

    In that post I discuss a bona fide geneticist and professor at a university who uses the term "macroevolution" ... which I interpret as substantially the same evolving discipline as "epigenetics."

    Anyway, he shook up the establishment scientists when he offered a hypothesis involving genetics / epigenetics in the sense of hybrid evolutionary dynamics.

    Everything was going great on his paper submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and the ralated book ... until it wasn't any more.

    Can't remember why I put it in the "germ theory of government" series. ;)

  3. Could the reason be government censorship? [They seem to be the malevolent virus in our culture.]


  4. Many people have noted the change in the culture of the United States.

    We have morphed into something we did not think was "in our genes."

    For example:

    1) becoming a warmongering nation rather than a peace loving nation,
    2) becoming a spy-on-the-people nation rather than a nation governed by constitutional law,
    3) becaming a prison nation jailing more citizens than any other nation,
    4) becoming a nation that destroys the Earth rather than protecting it,
    5) etc.

    The culturally epigenetic dynamic that turned off our previous genetic realm was foretold:

    "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other [enemy of public liberty]. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. Those truths are well established."

    (The Greatest Source Of Power Toxins?, quoting "the 4th President of the United States, Bill of Rights author, Congressman, Cabinet Member, and who was also called the 'Father of the U.S. Constitution'").

    This happened to a people who fled a feudal Europe, like the early humans who left Africa through Egypt, and who were eventually overcome by the things they once fled from.