Smoking Mom Affects Fetal DNA? It’s Downright Anti-Darwinian!

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Random mutation and sexual selection alone never seemed to me probabilistically sufficient to account for the origin of species as Darwin claimed. The way I understood Darwinism, it would mean that every random mutation on the way to a big mutation that could serve a competitive advantage would in itself have to be selected for and dominate a species at every step of the way so that subsequent mutations could build on them else subsequent mutations would randomly occur in organism not necessarily possessed of the original mutational building block. That just didn’t make mathematical sense to me in explaining the evolution of any trait that required more than a single genetic mutation. I figured there had to be some feedback mechanism at work that we haven’t discovered yet.

I investigated a little bit, found a book about something called developmental plasticity and tried to slog through it, but it didn’t seem really to explain the mechanism. (Though it did acknowledge the mathematical problem with Darwinism, I was gratified to discover 🙂 ) Still, I figured there was something to it–or something like it–that had to be at work. I hadn’t thought about it too much more though, until today….

I saw an article claiming that a mother’s smoking caused changes in the DNA of her unborn child. I had to call BS on that. No way. As a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if environmental factors could cause birth defects or genetic abnormalities and only a small number of things actually do–and smoking was not one of them. What the article explained halfway through, though, was that smoking didn’t actually change the baby’s DNA, but influenced what genes were turned on and which were turned off. Now that I could believe (tempered by my healthy suspicion of agenda-based science, of course).

I had figured that a mathematically possible adaptation of Darwin’s theory might be that random mutations occur all the time and accumulate without changing the species, but as the changes offer benefits appropriate to a changing environment, they could be turned on. The big question remained, of course, how the organism can make the connection between the environment and the beneficial mutations–it betokens some kind of subcellular intelligence that I, for one, can’t get my mind around.

The smoking mom article called this type of genetic on-off switching “epigenetics,” so I googled “epigenetics & Darwinism” and found 7,080 articlesmany of which added Lamarck‘s name to the mix. Apparently, Lamarck was run out of town on a rail for proposing an evolutionary theory that presupposed a feedback mechanism from parental behavior to offspring attributes. He is getting some props now, though, for seeming to anticipate epigenetics, albeit too little too late.

I am obviously not a scientist (and obviously am a nerd), but I love questioning the scientific theories that underpin the most basic assumptions of our lives, and I love even more finding the fissures in them that might lead to passageways toward deeper truths. I am eager to see how this line of science develops–and to continue questioning assumptions!

Update:

Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray
A haul of fossils found in Georgia suggests that half a dozen species of early human ancestor were actually all Homo erectus
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/17/skull-homo-erectus-human-evolution

 

 

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11 Responses to Smoking Mom Affects Fetal DNA? It’s Downright Anti-Darwinian!

  1. dginga says:

    I suppose if you questioned the author of this theory on the basis that it flies in the face of Darwinian thought, they would end up calling you ridiculous names to shut you up because you dare to question their politically motivated scientific beliefs.

    I say this because over the weekend I dared to try to calmly debate a friend of my husband’s on the subject of global warming, about which he has swallowed the kool aid and is a true believer. Almost as soon as I expressed an opinion opposing the AGW theory and calling it a political, not a scientific, construct, his buddy started in calling me (and others who would dare to question AGW) everything but a “Child of God.” Keep in mind that this man was a guest in our house, but apparently the AGW belief system is so fragile that they cannot brook any disagreement and must shut the naysayers up in any way they can. Finally his wife shut him down – although she is an AGW acolyte as well. At least she has some manners.

    • Bradrad says:

      You aren’t alone. A well informed person is rarely the first person to go off all emotional because of what someone believes. I find discussing things becomes less emotional the more I know about them.

    • austrogirl says:

      Have you read one of my favorites, The Report from Iron Mountain? In the 60s they were plotting to have a crisis that would justify world government and threw out the idea of environmentalism, explicitly stating that such an operation would have to have the unyielding buy-in of the entire scientific community. The Report actually comes close to dismissing that it would be possible to do so, but here we are.

      • Bradrad says:

        I was talking to a co worker today about law and enforcement, and we agreed that many people break the law, but they mostly make examples of those that defy authority. I think the same rule goes for politically correct science conventions. It’s ok to not believe in them, but it’s intolerable to defy their authority to set the acceptable view.

        • austrogirl says:

          You put your finger on what I was trying to get at with the Lamarck observation. I have observed it in other fields as well. You can be dead wrong as a central banker, for example, but if you faithfully execute based on the chosen paradigm you retain your status and respect. I learned in law school that doctors are charged with malpractice not if they do something wrong or bad but if they deviate from generally accepted medical practices. My brother died because he was prescribed AZT, a known toxin that destroyed his liver, but it was the generally accepted treatment for AIDS at the time so there was no recourse. (Not that it would have mattered to him at that point, but it might have saved someone else.)

        • austrogirl says:

          another thing…my husband and I always notice that…they don’t put everyone in jail for insider trading or tax evasion, but if you talk back to the authorities they do as in the cases of Leona Helmsley, Martha Stewart…

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