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It's your environment, stupid!

Geneticists are yet to recover from the shock of a human metagenome which has trillions of genes that it will take another century at least to unravel, even if all the science institutions in the world were to work only on those genes.Science should limit itself to unravelling the mysteries of nature and never try to teach nature a lesson or two, based on whims and fancies.

“The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on…..” Omar Khayyam

The medical profession has to move with the times if it wants to be compassionate and reduce iatrogenic suffering. Science is not the gospel truth for all times. If that were so, science would have been another dogmatic religion; not that it is any less dogmatic now! All scientific laws are true until proven otherwise. Let us look at some of them which are vital for human physiology and, consequently, for human welfare.

I know a few of my patients who suffer daily because of our ignorance in this field. The area is so vast that I am sure millions out there suffer for the same reason. One of my patients, a mother of a boy, makes life miserable for the boy and the whole family fearing that he will be a diabetic soon as his father and uncle are diabetics and one cousin also has diabetes. She is literate and obsessed with learning about diabetes from the health “scare” articles in the lay magazines.

“Genes play a vital role in diabetes and cancer and many of the modern day killers,” threatens an article in one of the popular weeklies. “Doctors should be aware of family history of a disease,” prints the medical textbook even. “Do not read health books, you may die of a misprint,” was the opinion of Mark Twain, an all time wise guy. He would have foreseen all that happens in the disease care field these days.

Epigenetics

Jean-Baptist de Lamarck, (1809), distinguished biologist from France, presented his theory of life nearly 50 years before the evolutionist Charles Darwin. He was the first to show in his book that the present system of animals is a product of evolution. Unlike Darwin, Lamarck wrote that organisms acquire and pass on adaptations necessary for their survival in a changing environment. His theory fits with new the age biologists' finding that immune systems adapt themselves to their environment for survival. Darwin's Origin of Species has a chapter that talks only of “struggle and violence” for survival behind evolutionary advancement — survival of the fittest. Biology has changed a lot since then but diehard Darwinists hang on to his coat tails. Even people write books to sell Darwinism today (Dawkins' The Blind Watch Maker).

Be that as it may, let us look at how diseases get passed on from one generation to the next. As I have been writing for a very long time now, the human genes play only a secondary role in that scenario. The overambitious geneticists were boasting that they would find a gene for every human ill but ended up with just 1,000 more genes compared to a small round worm in the human gut. (human 25,000 vs. the round worm's 24,000 genes). Of course, those scientists are the ones that get all the grants and the research papers in the “respectable” peer reviewed journals. Those who tell the truth get brickbats! This has a lesson for all of us.

Science should limit itself to unravelling the mysteries of nature and never try to teach nature a lesson or two, based on whims and fancies. Now one understands how thousands of women having the BRAC1 gene, etc., are dying daily with the fear of breast cancer and might even get that cancer solely owing to fear. There are efforts to unravel the human genome and make life miserable for everyone. The poor gene is innocent. Geneticists are yet to recover from the shock of a human metagenome which has trillions of genes that it will take another century at least to unravel, even if all the science institutions in the world were to work only on those genes. There are human genes, germ genes, viral genes and their metabolites genes (germinomes, virinomes, and metabolomes, together called the human metagenome) inside the meta-genome.

Human metagenome should teach mankind that every action of mankind could only be accomplished with the permission of those foreign genes along with our own. This brings us to the Indian wisdom that education is humility and humility is the best genetic characteristic.

The gene requires its environment for penetrance to show its prowess. The last action depends not on genes but on proteins that are more powerful than the genes. This new science of epi-genetics is growing by leaps and bounds and soon we will unravel the secrets of happy living with camaraderie and co-operation in place of bloody wars and struggle to come up in life. At the cellular level, every human (animal) cell is an independent “person” with feelings and capacity to survive all by itself. Soon, the cells in evolution learned that cooperation (differentiation) and living together in colonies is easier and more productive.

Cornell University evolutionist, C.H. Waddington, in his book, The evolution of an evolutionist (1975) writes that Lamarck was shabbily treated even after a century of development in biology that upholds Lamarckism. Balter wrote a paper in the “prestigious” journal Science in 2000 AD with the ticklish title, “Was Lamarck just a little bit right?” This tongue-in-cheek heading speaks for itself. The environment is also vitiated by gene transfer not only in a single species but genes could jump from species to species in the environment, the inter species and intraspecies gene transfer mechanisms bring to fore the dreaded fear of genetic engineering. There are studies now that show that genetically engineered foods alter the intestinal bacterial flora by transferring their artificially injecting genes on to those beneficial gut germs! This could alter our immune system for ever, creating a new immune deficiency syndrome deadlier than AIDS! ( Heritage, J. (2004). The fate of transgenes in the human gut. Nature Biotechnology 22: 170 -172. doi:10.1038/nbt0204-170 http://www.nature.com/cgi- & Netherwood T., Susana M Martin-Orue, SM., O'Donnell, AG., Gockling, S., Graham, J., Mathers, JC. and Gilbert, HJ. (2004). Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Nature Biotechnology 22, 204-209.)

Epigenetics — control above the genes — has completely uprooted our conventional beliefs. Epigenetics literally means that our life experiences control our biology and not vice versa. Genetically-modified foods in this context could mean real disaster. Genetically modified tomato, for example, in the gut could transfer its newly acquired gene to the healthy and friendly intestinal bacterial genes to produce deadly germs and undo our immune system. Unlike what we think, it is not biochemistry that rules the human physiology but the human life experiences that run the show. There are few single gene transfer diseases but they form a microscopic minority of congenital genetic disorders.

Each cell in our body, of which there are 10{+1}{+4} in all, is a complete organism and is capable of doing almost all the functions of a man including locomotion. Evolution, however, taught the vital lesson to the cell to live in harmony and friendship with others in the community for safer and more productive life. This life experience of a single cell applies not just to individuals but to societies, nations and the whole world. The Indian wisdom of Vasudai eva kutumbakam (World is but one large family) is a very, very scientific concept in today's new biology.

The god concept also has a place because it is the faith and the belief thereof that is what keeps mankind tranquil. New physics tells us that our bodies are not solid matter but bundles of energetic ever-dancing energy particles (leptons). They are dancing in synch with each other and also in tune with their surrounding nature and humans. It is wise for us to love everyone to be healthy as ayurveda suggested ( aapthopasevi bhaveth aarogyam). Hatred begets hatred and disease. Diseases are not organ-based entities but mind-body based. Human mind is in every cell and hatred might even make our own cells hate our other cells. (autoimmune diseases)

Health, therefore, is enthusiasm to work and enthusiasm to be compassionate. The era of diseases and diagnoses has come to an end. (Am J Med 2004; 116: 179) Whole person healing is the only salvation for mankind. (Roy R, 2010, www.thejsho.com). There is no cure but healing is possible. Healing is simply making the person whole again. “Cure rarely, comfort mostly, but console always.” That is the art of medicine. “Science is a series of judgments, revised without ceasing” — Pierre Emile Duclaux (1840-1904)

(The writer is a former professor of cardiology, Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London and former Vice-Chancellor, Manipal University. His email is: hegdebm@gmail.com)

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 11:42:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/its-your-environment-stupid/article2233677.ece

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