- The Real Superhumans
The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic is a two hour long special from the
Discovery Channelwhich aired in 2007. It Follows four people with real life superhumanabilities, a geneticistwho created the first chimeraof two very different species of rodents, and a scientist on a mission to become immortal. The show was done in a comic bookformat ending with the common slogan "To be continued" as to indicate that the people of the show and humanity itself is just beginning to venure into a new age, one where genetic manipulationto obtain special abilities will be for sale to the general public.
The program postulates that the sole reason for the abilities of these people is due to their genetic makeup. However, many scientists now dispute this orthodoxy, as there are sufficient scientific grounds to think that genetics has limited scope in explaining all human characteristics, and epigenetic processes play a much larger role than previously realised. [Webcast [http://www.tjols.com/article-427.html Epigenetics: Playing the Genetic Score] "Epigenetics is challenging long-held notions that our genes are our destiny and radically changing the way researchers think about the development of certain illnesses."] [Elizabeth Pennisi [http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/293/5532/1064 Behind the Scenes of Gene Expression] Journal of Science, 10 August 2001: Vol. 293. no. 5532, pp. 1064 - 1067] [Marcus E Pembrey [http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v10/n11/full/5200901a.html Time to take epigenetic inheritance seriously] Journal of Nature, November 2002, Volume 10, Number 11, Pages 669-671] Firstly, our beliefs, intentions and physiological state has been shown to significantly alter gene expression in animals via epigentic processes. [Pembrey M. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8872020 Imprinting and transgenerational modulation of gene expression; human growth as a model] Acta Genet Med Gemellol (Roma). 1996; 45(1-2):111-25] Stress is a physiologic and chemical response to environmental or perceived stimuli, It is very well known that stress and other physiologic responses can affect expression of genes in differing situations. It has also been found that a persons state of mind and stress can affect epigenetic encoding and that changes can actually be inherited. [Lawrence V. Harper [http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall05/mcguem/psy8935/readings/harper2005.pdf Epigenetic Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transfer of Experience] Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association 2005, Vol. 131, No. 3, 340–360]
The most well studied case of our state of mind and physiological condition changing our gene expression is the methylation of genes in various rat studies. Dr Moshe Syf from McGill university in Montreal has studied the relationships between rats and their offspring. Some of the mother rats groomed and nurtured their young, and some hardly did at all. Rats that had been groomed as infants showed marked behavioural changes as adults, they were "Less fearful and better adjusted than the offspring of the neglectful mothers" [Article, The Economist [http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7941685 Epigenetics] 2006] They then acted in similar nurturing ways towards their own offspring, producing the same epigenetic behavioural results in the next generation. This shows that epigenetic changes, once started in one generation, can be passed on to the following generations without changes in the gene themselves. There were numerous chemical changes detected in the rats brains and major differences had developed between the nurtured group and the neglected group, especially in the area of the hippocampus involved in stress. A gene that dampens our response to stress had a greater degree of expression in the well nurtured rats. The brains of the nurtured rats also showed higher levels of a chemical (acetyl groups) that facilitates gene expression by binding the protein sheath around the gene, making it easier for the gene to express. They also had higher levels of an enzyme that adds acetyl groups to the protein sheath. Randy Jirtle has discovered that he could make Agouti mice produce normal healthy young, by changing the expression of thier genes, and without making any chages to the mouses DNA, by feeding them methyl groups. These molecule clusters are able to inhibit the expression of genes, and sure enough, the methyl groups eventually worked their way through the mothers metabolism to attatch to the Agouti genes of the developing embryos. "It was a little eerie and a little scary to see how something as subtle as a nutritional change in the pregnant mother rat could have such a dramatic impact on the gene expression of the baby," [Discover magazine article [http://discovermagazine.com/2006/nov/cover DNA Is Not Destiny] ] Jirtle says. "The results showed how important epigenetic changes could be. The tip of the iceberg is genomics... The bottom of the iceberg is epigenetics".
Another issue with the gemonic based explanations seeked in the program for each person is that the number of genes in a human chromosome is insufficient to carry all the information required to create and run the human body. It isn't even a big enough number to code for the structure (let alone function) of one complex organ like the brain. Its also to small a number to account for the huge quantity of neutral connections in our bodies. For instance "the Iceman" Wim Hoff in the documentary, was using his state of mind and the resulting physiological changes to directly effect his condition, as to raise his core body temparature he used a meditative technique similar to that of Tibettan tibettan monks observed in a Harvard study. [William J. Cromie [http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments] HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES] . It is reasonable to posulate that epigenetic changes could result from these thought induced physiological conditions that could be inherited, or even artifically genetically enhanced with advances in epigenetic studies.
The show can be found (broken into fragments) on YouTube. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxogo0sMFBM]
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