I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world

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Do we inherit the suffering of our ancestors?

I’ve recently come across a number of articles on the subject of epigenetics. According to LiveScience, epigenetics ‘literally means “above” or “on top of” genetics. It refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence, but instead, they affect how cells “read” genes.

Studies have seemed to show that the effects of things like stress, obesity, and living through famine or war can be passed on from parents to children, and perhaps even to grandchildren and beyond. The effects of these experiences on a parent can alter the way genes are turned on or off in the DNA of one’s offspring. So, in my lay person understanding, it seems that parents might not just pass on their basic genetic material to their children, but also residual effects of certain life experiences.

I’m not going to pretend to understand it all, and I’m certainly not going to try and explain what I’ve read. It’s a bit too complex for me, and I think I’ll need to give these articles a few more readings to better get my head around the information. But this certainly adds a whole new layer to the way we think about genetic inheritance and the effects parents have on their children and future descendent. Our experiences, life style choices, and physical and mental health may be even more important to those who come after us than we previously thought.

If you’d like to read more, here are a few recent articles on epigenetics:

The Economist Explains: What is Epigenetics? | The Economist

Epigenetics: The Sins of the Father | NATURE

Can Children Inherit Stress? | New York Times

Poisoned Inheritance | The Economist


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Breakthrough for children born with HIV

Here is an exciting article from the New York Times, about a baby born with HIV who has been ‘cleared’ of the virus due to aggressive treatment started soon after birth.

This discovery could potentially change the fate of the hundreds of thousands of children born with the virus each year. Amazing stuff!

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Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

This excellent article from the New York Times tells the story of a young man who murders his girlfriend, and the road he, his family and his girlfriend’s family travel on their way toward healing, forgiveness and restitution. ┬áThis bold look at what is known as ‘restorative justice’ challenges the way we usually think about criminal justice, crime and punishment, and offers hope in the possibility that both criminals and victims of crime can work toward true healing after terrible tragedies.

It is a very powerful story and has had me thinking for days. It doesn’t offer any easy answers or solutions, because particularly in cases of violent crime, no easy solutions or quick fixes exist. But it has made me question the limitations and failures of the current norms of criminal justice, and wonder how something like restorative justice could be used on a wider scale, and in what situations it would even be appropriate.

Is it really something practical that could be used beyond a few exceptional situations? What in our society would hinder further use of restorative justice and how could these hindrances be overcome? Is this a practice that can only be successful in smaller scale communities on a case by case basis or could it ever become the institutional norm?

Read the article here: Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?