Tribune Watchdog Or Tribune Skunk? Part 1
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TIME Magazine on Epigenetics and Autism

Darwin By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.

Our community rightly spends a good deal of time pointing out errors in media stories about autism, but it’s so much more enjoyable to write about mainstream articles which get the scientific issues involved in autism right.

The cover story in TIME magazine last week is entitled “Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny” (HERE) by John Cloud.  I was amazed at what a great job the writer did with a very complicated subject.  And yes, it touches on autism.

As somebody who teaches both genetics and evolution these are important matters, not just in the great span of time, but also in our individual lives.  Before I get into the subject of epigenetics let me give you a little background on evolution in general and genetics in particular.

In the 150 years since Darwin published On the Origin of Species the controlling belief was that your genes were your destiny.  The good genes conveyed a survival advantage that would persist over time, while those that didn’t would be weeded out.  You could pretty much do whatever you wanted to yourself, drink or smoke yourself into an early grave, but when your kids were born they got a blank slate when it came to their genetics.  They’d have the same chance as you did.  The sins, health habits or environmental exposures of the parent did not pass onto the children.

But the evidence showed something radically different from this view of evolution.  For example, what were the effects of periods of feast and famine on the descendants of those who survived?  Using data from an area of northern Sweden, scientists were able to determine how much food had been available to selected subjects and various times in their development.

The research showed that boys who went from normal eating to gluttony in a single season turned out to have grandsons with a decreased life expectancy (adjusting for socio-economic factors) of 32 years!  Think of that!  Your grandfather’s eating habits might determine whether you live to be 84 or 52 years old.  This is not what Darwin would have predicted.  But science always changes in response to new information.

The article went on to cite other examples of how an environmental exposure may have long-lasting health effects.  One epigenetic study suggested that the rise in peanut allergies may be explained by the new use of peanut oils in baby lotion formulas.  Another study showed “fruit flies exposed to a drug called geldamamycin showed unusual outgrowths on their eyes that can last through at least 13 generation of offspring even though no change in DNA has occurred (and generations 2 through 13 were not directly exposed to the drug.)”  Another recent publication in this field cataloged “some 100 forms of epigenetic inheritance.”

Then there was this paragraph which went to the heart of the issue:  “More recently, however, researchers began to realize that epigenetics could also help explain certain scientific mysteries that traditional genetics never could; for instance, why one member of a pair of identical twins can develop bipolar disorder or asthma even though the other is fine.  Or why autism strikes boys four times as often as girls . . . In these cases, the genes may be the same, but their patterns of expression have clearly been tweaked.”

The epigenome is then best understood as existing above your genes (or genome), but influencing how your genes work.  The explanation offered by biologists is that if your genome can be compared to a computer’s hardware, the epigenome is the software telling it how to function.  The process of changing the genome is through a process called DNA methylation; a single carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms.  “When a methyl group attaches to a specific spot on a gene . . . it can change the gene’s expression, turning it off or on, dampening it or making it louder.”

All of which brings us back to autism.

Our community has long asserted our children were not genetically pre-determined to get autism.  If autism was purely a genetic problem then the numbers should be 1 in 100 from here until the dawn of time.  The autistic should be part of our culture, the stories we tell, the very fabric of our society.  But they’re not.  Instead we have stories about the tidal wave of adults with autism we can expect in the next few years and how poorly prepared we are for them.  Nobody saw this problem until it was first described in the 1940s.  From that time it’s gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100.  With that rate of increase, can it be long until it goes to 1 in 10?  We need to find answers.

And let’s be clear about it.  Most of us saw a change after a vaccination, a procedure which has become more common since our generation (10 vaccinations in the 1980’s before the age of 5 to 36 vaccinations under the current schedule) and has been administered at earlier ages. 

Many of the far-sighted researchers and physicians in autism have been talking about DNA methylation for years.  These concerns have finally begun to enter the mainstream conversation.

Science is showing that a change in eating patterns can have consequences that reach down the generations.  Peanut oil in baby lotions might be behind the amazing rise in peanut allergies.  A drug administered to a fly affects thirteen succeeding generations.  What has the increased vaccination schedule done to our children?  What might a single vaccination do to the genome of a child, or even an adult?

These are reasonable questions and I’m glad a magazine like TIME is coming close to asking them.  That’s what science is about.  Asking the right questions and getting meaningful answers which can help people.  This needs to happen in autism.

I hope the rest of the media follows TIME magazine’s excellent example.

Kent Heckenlively is Contributing Editor of Age of Autism



D. Carlson

Thanks for the article, Kent. When my son's blood was 'live cell' analyzed under a microscope many red cells were "crenated" or looked like bottle caps around the edges. A wonderful naturopath indicated there would be an impairment of oxygen transport because of the breakdown of the lipid coating. 6 months of EFA's later, it was easy to see the predominance of well red cells. You might try to find a practitioner who will look at blood cells with EYES instead of automated machinery and see what the cells tell us. If the cells are sick wouldn't it stand to reason the kids will be too?

moon batchelder

epigenetic factors influencing expression...
i love it!
when i first started following this relatively new science i began to understand why evolution can sometimes take leaps that aren't equivalent over time...
it also nicely explains many identical twin differences and autism too!
my son has only had the first of the barage of recommended ... at nearly seven years old now, his autim is mild...he is high functioning...but i have no doubt that had he gotten these vaccinations on the current schedule i'd be looking at a very different situation...
thanks for this article

Darian (nickname)

I concur Jake! Evolution was about survival of the fittest. Anyone who works with low fuctioning people on the spectrum, who are the majority, knows that autism is not a progression of the human brain. It has nothing to do with the evolving human at all! It is a disorder, something that hampers our ability to survive, not enhance it!! People are dumb! I would love to grab Ari Ne'eman and take him on a tour of the Nevada Habilitation Center, and the ARC East Side Day Program where I live.

I would have him observe the autistics in the group in silence. How they act and react. And then I would later ask him, now, do you think this is a step forward in evolution?!

Darian (nickname)

I have an alternative to tylenol and Ibprophen that is not nearly as dangerous. It is a rather old remedy really. It's called White Willow Bark Tea. I have a large collection of loose herbs, and usually buy them off ebay, although you can get them at your local healthfood shop.

I put about one or two tea spoon fulls of white willow bark into some boiling water and allow it to boil for five minutes. Then I turn off the burner and let it soak for 6 minutes. I strain out the bark by Placing a piece of silk I have just for this purpose, though any cloth will do as long as it's clean, and place it over the mug I wish to drink out of.

I then pour slowly onto the silk, and watch as the liquid goes through but the herb stays on the silk. I go take care of the silk after I get all I want in the mug, add a bit of honey or sugar, depending on what I want that day, and it is ready.

And let me tell you folks, this not onlay cures your aches, it also is incredibly relaxing to your muscles, and helps you sleep. It is good to drink at night. I sometimes will add a bit of chamomile along with it if I am having anxiety issues.

I find it far more satisfactory than tylenol and convential medicine. And not to mention by drinking such a drink, I know that my liver will be just fine. That's right folks. Ibprophen, if taken to often (and we Americans always do), even so much as one every day, will cause liver damage.

I'll stick to my teas. Much healthier. *nods*

One more tip. If you or your child is having a hard time sleeping, and Melatonin doens't seem to be enough to get you/him/her to sleep, you might want to try some valerian root. I mix it with chamomile and mint. It will put you stright to sleep. Though I must warn you. Valerian Root does stink to high heaven! Wash your hands after handeling it to get rid of the smell.

The mint should cover up the smell for the tea. Adding at least 2 and a half large tablespoons of honey or sugar (go with Splenda naturals, they extract from fruit)as the taste is stronger with valerian root, and sip. Knock you/him/her right out!!

Sorry folks. It's the herbal guru coming out of me. That's what I get for being such an eccletic, lol! I trust my herbs and remedies over convential meds anyday. My old anxiety medication would do awful things to me! My stomach was always upset, I was always depressed, made me want to sleep all the time.

Don't even get me started on the Side Effects of taking Aderal!!

I have found Ginko Biloboa to be great for helping me focus. Or should I say, more able to focus on an entire room instead of just one particular thing, becoming oblivous to all else.

I'm going to stop now. I keep going. Aspie tendsncy to babble... forgive me folks!

I do wish the medical practictioners of today would go back and study the mthods of the old wives from history. The ones who used herbal remedies for a variety of ailments. And though sometimes it was fraud, alot of times these remeides worked! A through knowledge of possible supplements that could help instead of automaticly throwing meds at the problem should be part of a physiscans knowledge.


Thanks, Kent. We should all let Time know we appreciate this story. It's an opportunity to make the case for dumping a majority of the current gene based research in favor of the science of epigenetics. The old "gene dog" just doesn't hunt, especially in the case of autism.

michael framson

"that with the flick of a biochemical switch"

We've been flicking the biochemical switch without a clue as to what we've been doing for decades. I'm with Darian and Moffit. I'm troubled with the fact that so many things that men tinker with, have unfortunate and unintended consequences.

Imagine Monsanto running with this idea.....voila,round up ready kids.


Yes, supposedly the product became contaminated in their sealed packaging by the chemicals used to treat the wooden pallets used to store the product. J&J has known the over the counter drugs have been making people sick since 2008 and did nothing. I'm sure something like that could never happen at Merck.

J&J was also sued yesterday by the Department of Justice for giving $50 million in kickbacks to a company for prescribing the antipsychotic Risperdal to nursing home residents. You know the same drug that causes strokes and kills the elderly and is used to calm down kids with autism. Apparently the government is upset because medicare and medicaid was basically robbed of 180 million dollars.

Such a clean industry, clean the blood off their hands.

Jennifer Hutchinson

Is this for real?

Johnson & Johnson issues massive recall of Tylenol

NEW YORK (AP) — Johnson & Johnson issued a massive recall of over-the-counter drugs including Tylenol, Motrin and St. Joseph's aspirin because of a moldy smell that has made people sick.

It included caplet and geltab products sold in the Americas, the United Arab Emirates, and Fiji.

Consumers should check the full list at to identify the recalled batches.

It was the second such recall in less than a month because of the smell, which regulators said Friday was first reported to McNeil in 2008.

Federal regulators criticized the company, saying it didn't respond to the complaints quickly enough, wasn't thorough in how it handled the problem and didn't inform the Food and Drug Administration quickly.

The recall includes some batches of regular and extra-strength Tylenol, children's Tylenol, eight-hour Tylenol, Tylenol arthritis, Tylenol PM, children's Motrin, Motrin IB, Benadryl Rolaids, Simply Sleep, and St. Joseph's aspirin.

The FDA and Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare Products said they did not know the number of bottles recalled.

The FDA said about 70 people have been either sickened by the odor — including nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea — or noticed it.

The smell is caused by small amounts of a chemical associated with the treatment of wooden pallets, Johnson & Johnson said. The FDA said the chemical can leach into the air, and traced it to a facility in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico.

The New Brunswick, N.J., company said it is investigating the issue and will stop shipping products with the same materials on wooden pallets. It has asked suppliers to do so as well.

The FDA said McNeil knew of the problem in early 2008 but made only a limited investigation.

"McNeil should have acted faster," said Deborah Autor, the director of the FDA's Office of Compliance of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "When something smells bad, literally or figuratively, companies must aggressively investigate and take all necessary action to solve the problem."

The FDA sent McNeil a warning letter for violating manufacturing standards and failing to report and investigate the problem in a timely way, Autor said.

Johnson & Johnson has 15 days to respond. The FDA says it wants an explanation as to why the problem was not made public sooner.

In November, McNeil recalled some Tylenol Arthritis Caplets due to the smell. Almost three weeks ago, the company expanded its recall to include more batches of Tylenol Arthritis Caplets.

There have been no reports of nausea related to the most recent recall, the company said. McNeil, however, said the expanded recall includes product lots that could be affected by the same problems of nausea.

The company said it is working with the FDA.


Good God!
Yeah it autism is inherited now!
Uust as the immune response is inherited!
Give a kid or a teenager a vaccine and excite the immune system - make that immune system inflamatory and that young adult is going to have a kid that is already born with a wild out of control - not normal immune system. Give this same baby some more vaccines and we have the worse of the worse cases of autism.

I am tired of all this crap!

Theodore M. Van Oosbree

True understanding of genetics did not begin until the 1950s and the discovery of DNA. Prior to that, scientists studied patterns of inheritance but had no precise idea of what caused them. We are in the 1950s phase of epigenetics and can expect plenty of surprises.


Thank you for sharing this article. It made my heart race to read it. I, do, however, have a slight quibble with your interpretation. ---

After controlling for socioeconomic factors, "the DIFFERENCE in longevity (between grandsons whose grandfathers endured famine vs those who switched rapidly from famine to feast) jumped to an astonishing 32 years" (TIME).

Not, as you imply, a life expectancy of 32 years. (Although with a difference of 32 years, it very well might have been that low; with a difference of 32 years, the other group - with the famished grandfathers - would have to be 64 years.)

No Darwinist here

Didn't Darwin discredit himself and his own beliefs at the end of his life? When people say they are Darwinists I have to wonder, before or after he found the truth?


IACC Full Committee Meeting today has Dr. Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine listed as a speaker. Feinberg is today's supposed guru when it comes to epigenetics.

He has made some interesting comments in the past.

QUESTION: Do any environmental pollutants alter epigenetic "settings"?

FIENBERG ANSWERS: Most things that cause DNA mutations, that have been also tested epigenetically, seem to affect the epigenome as well.

QUESTION: Are there any cancer treatments in use today that work at the epigenetic level?

FIENBERG ANSWERS: Yes, there are drugs that alter DNA methylation or histone modification.

QUESTION: Do people actually change their epigenetic methylation levels by taking vitamin supplements?

FIENBERG ANSWERS: Not studied but should be.

One of the molecules produced during methylation is glutathione, a primary detoxifier of the body.

Darian (nickname)

I meant things that go in the parents bodies through out thier life. If that makes sense.

Darian (nickname)

I have to disagree with one part of this article. I do not feel that the rate of girls with autism is as lovw in compariosn to boys and people think. I do think that girls tend to mother thier own. If a girl is socialy akward or has sensory issues, and happen to be somewhat like me, we get over looked. Especially if we happen to get good grades in school and just seem a bit "off" to others.

They don't really begin to notice things until the girl hits highschool and the major defacits are far more visable. And even then it can be written off to depression or ADD. In fact I was written off as ADD when I was second grade, and I kept that diagnoses untill I was 18. I wonder how many girls also were miss diagnosed with that.

I think there is more of us than it shows in offical numbers. I know many females who seem to carry my traits. But girls can write off certain things to being shy where boys can not. No one notices the sullen withdrawn girl in the corner except her parents, and as you all know, no one listens to them. Or when they do, they have them shove ritialin down your child's throat.

Other than that, I have to agree. When talking about tinkering with DNA, you are talking about a slippery and dangerous slope. I believe that some traits have more to do with what goes into the body of the parent than actual direct dna.


WOW. It does seem so logical..

Bob Moffitt

From the Time article:

"But the potential is staggering. For decades, we have stumbled around massive Darwinian roadblocks. DNA, we thought, was an ironclad code that we and our children and their children had to live by. Now we can imagine a world in which we can tinker with DNA, bend it to our will. It will take geneticists and ethicists many years to work out all the implications, but be assured: the age of epigenetics has arrived."

I don't know about you...but...the thought that unravelling the mysteries of epigentics may lead to a world in which we can "tinker with DNA, bend it to our will" scares the bejesus out of me.


What I thought was interesting was that the polio inventors are studying epigentics and somehow neglected to study the epigentic effects of any vaccine or any pharma product. I don't think they ever will

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