Epic Epigenetics

    [touched off by article on epi-markers & homosexuality]

    I'm excited about progress in science on a number of levels, and figure our understanding of matters will be vastly different in 20-30 years based on evolving tools & theories.

    Politically I think it poses problems as well - we base our policies on traditional understanding of issues and traditional approaches. First suggestion in the economic crunch was a jobs program 1930's style combined with tax cuts 1980's style. Economics & finance has moved on, but our policy makers haven't.

    Global warming debate - how it emanates, what to do - is proceeding in a fragile reliance on limited past observations and generally limited options. But we have a slough of new data coming in that gives more & more nuanced understanding, big data approaches that slices & dices different ways, and numerous new changes in energy patterns and possibilities. Energy consumption of computers in 20 years might be 1/100th of today (as my primitive power supply whines in the background - imagine 5 million data centers running optical CPUs & storage, tiny telco boxes handling what major telco switches do today). Electric cars and new grids are in infancy, & we don't know yet how that tech will change energy use long-term, as the distribution of physical petrol turns to complex global mass distribution of waves of electrons, and our models for energy production & consumption change.

    Medical advances in genetics & nano-manipulation of molecules, understanding afflictions, possibilities of cures, and just better understanding the human condition.

    So when I saw this article linking gayness with one of my favorite obscure developments, epigenetics, it was a nice illustration of how our positions have to be based objectively, allow for the shifting sands of understanding. Epigenetics is a bit of a mid-way point between nature & nurture, giving some traits the potential for being revealed as genetic development is carried out (not specifically as programmed).

    My problem with genetics theory has been that it seems rather limited numerically, that while it's great to line up 2 chromosomes and pair up dominant & recessive genes, the number of permutations still seem too trivial and overly deterministic to justify the diversity in real life - not just at birth but over the lifetime of organisms.

    So epigenetics seems to document how the genetic plan is actually carried out, and the variations possible according to different settings and circumstances.

    Having homosexuality linked to epigenetics (early theory) has a certain beauty for me - not a pre-programmed inclination as gays often contend to defend against attacks. And not a choice, as sometimes claimed to attack. But more a low-level evolutionary option that may or may not happen, an ongoing possibility under certain circumstances (are we all not a bit gay, but have the possibility to be various levels of gay?). "Not only does God play dice, he cheats", as Hagbard Celine contended.

    It could be variation plots the future - healthy foods, a jarring medical or adrenalin experience, environmental factors beyond our control... but if this process starts in the womb and continues to the tomb, hard to control all those expressions of basic genetic makeup. And which ones do we care to? It takes genetics from a brittle hard-coded-at-birth approach to a lifelong developmental model and tool.

    The main issue is that what this means - for practical life or medical / physiological and psychological / behavioral understanding - is very much at the starting point. 30 years from now, will it affect types of foods we eat, longevity, how we deal with behavioral issues, what we think of as personalities or physical limitations? Hang on for a ride - the future will be more and more bizarre. Or maybe not. Mostly, it just reminds me of how much we don't know and how little is certain.

    Guess a picture's worth a thousand words.


    The first I ever heard of epigenetics was a short feature about someone who had their cat cloned but all the resulting kittens had different coloring and markings. It was very reassuring after all the hullabaloo about how mapping the human genome was going to explain and cure everything human.  Final answers are just so .... final.  

    Mostly though just want to express my appreciation for the link within your link describing the Singularity as rapture of the nerds b.s.  L O L



    Yes, your example is a good illustration. plus enjoyed the hype-deflation myself.

    One huge problem in this universe of intellectual diversification is that the 'we' really knows nothing.

    So we read tomes written by experts who have studied some subject for ten, twenty, and thirty years and we usually have difficulty even discerning the conclusions.

    And there is usually some monetary factor involved when an 'expert' publishes his/her findings. I mean a geneticist can hardly expect funding if he/she contended that there was no certainty in the research universe or if he/she began criticizing the large agriculture concerns. 

    I have stated several times that I have no idea whether or not 'mankind' is a substantial contributing factor in global warming and I have no idea what steps 'mankind' can take to abate the situation or at least ease the warming a bit.

    But, I recall when smog was a lot heavier in the Twin Cities. And the air is cleaner than it was fifty years ago.

    Cleaner air and cleaner water would certainly be a byproduct of the processes proposed by the global warming lobbyists. So how could a carbon tax not help our environment?

    When President Obama had the auto industry by the short hairs he forced new regulations upon that industry. Better mileage and cleaner exhaust fumes certainly help the situation.

    A truly renaissance man must remain in the era of the Renaissance!

    As you point out however, when you stand back from the picture there are strange and wonderful things on out there in just about every area of study in science today.

    And this fact is truly exciting.


    In the case of pollution, we moved a lot of our industry (and therefore pollution) to Mexico and China. Some cleanup as well. I remember the yellow smog over LA in the early 80's, quite horrid.

    But what happens when all those cars on the LA freeway are electric, when every building has a seriously efficient solar array?

    And what happens when these Jap chaps perfect light bombing the atmosphere to turn CO2 into alcohol? The future possibilities are intoxicating.

    From your link:

    The plan is to stick these machines in the vicinity of factories and power plants to absorb the waste carbon dioxide and turn it into ethanol.

    Not a bad plan as climate change boondoggles go.  I wonder if they plan to market home versions or would they, like home stills, be illegal.  Not that my interest in acquiring one is ethanol related. It is just that many schemes to deal with CO2 accumulations like pumping the gas into deep cold waters or abandoned mines worry me way more than climate change. What happens if or when seismic activity cause multiple Lake Nyos?


    Creature from the Black Lagoon? Swamp Thing? Makes me think of Mono Lake.

    The first thing that comes to mind is chaos theory sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The expression of the plethora of interacting genetic factors with the environment just within the first year of life is something even the most complex computer could handle. Whether sexual orientation or otherwise, we contain all of potential expressions in us.

    I meant to say that even our best computers can't deal with all of the variables involved in the unfolding of genetic expression. I hate communicating through my phone.

    You wrote:

    I meant to say that even our best computers can't deal with all of the variables involved in the unfolding of genetic expression.

    That simply isn't true. And while I am loathe to get into a discussion about biomedical computational research with anyone on this website, genetic research uses exactly that type of modeling in genome research.  And our best computers are more than able to handle this type of modeling and analysis using giant datasets.

    Computational genome research is based on the use of probabilistic graphical models such as Bayesian networks, influence diagrams, and Markov decision processes.  

    Our current methodologies are enhanced by the power of computers today, which handle giant datasets, with billions of lines of information and are quite capable of modeling the large datasets produced by computational genome research. What is lacking in computational genome research is adequate funding.

    To split the difference, it's possible that scientists would come up with even more complex models if & when big data processing and analysis is even faster, more scalable and cheaper. We're still early on the curve of some of these models & computational approaches, and paying the early days premium. In 5, 10, 20 years...

    Several articles on how we don't have the energy to build the super exascale machines we want to build for about a decade, though that doesn't stop China & US from building hundreds of petaflops and million core machines in the meantime.


    So I suppose our computers can accurately predict the weather for a single location one week from today? 

    But the problem you face is that with all of the datasets you have, the future experiences that will influence the individual cannot be included.  How these unknown variables will cascade through the unfolding expression cannot be predicted simply because the variables are ultimately unknowable. 

    We are talking about here specifically sexual orientation.  Looking at the genetic makeup of a newborn, there is no way to look at how 21 years of experience will play out.  I am reminded of the scene from Annie Hall.

    The camera shows the full classroom, the students sitting behind their desks, 
    the teacher standing in the front of the room.  One at a time, the young 
    students rise u from their desks and speak.
    				1ST BOY 
    		I'm president of the Pinkus Plumbing Company.
    				2ND BOY 
    		I sell tallises.
    				3RD BOY 
    		I used to be a heroin addict.  Now I'm a 
    		methadone addict. 
    				2ND GIRL 
    			I'm into leather.

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