Epigenetics: epi what?

Pity the poor editor on BBC’s news programme  “Breakfast” (11 jan 2011) subtitling, as Professor Robert Winston and others discussed the possibility of gender selection to "complete your family in the way you desire" i.e. to finally achieve that longed for girl or boy.

Throughout the discussion the text editor had kept up admirably, coping with explanations of these gender selection techniques:

  • at fertilisation (by enriching for male sperm)
  • pre-implantation (by removing a cell from a fertilised embryo to check the sex.

 (Both techniques are tried and tested. Sperm enrichment is used for cattle breeding and pre-implantation tests are used to select healthy embryos without a gender-linked genetic defect)

 In vivo fertilisation was rendered accurately too, which just shows how much the public has come to know and understand about IVF since it was first introduced all those years ago.

Then Professor Winston mentioned in passing “epigenetic influences” which was transcribed rapidly onto my TV screen as “EDGE THE GENETIC”!

Clearly the editor hadn’t a clue. So I’ve decided to define (& explain) for you the term “epigenetic” so that you will.  Along the way, I hope, you emerge fascinated…


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Is this really the future of food?

A few weeks ago we were discussing beer – or rather the lack of it expected
as a result of climate change. This week, Chalmers
University of Technology
in Sweden has unveiled a new superfood. Even less
appealing than no beer, this rather unappetising dish is the Swedish equivalent
of tempeh and was brewed up as part of a Ph.D. research project.

As the student responsible, Charlotte Eklund-Jonsson, explains, the main
objectives behind her work were to develop a whole grain product that did not
lose its available iron content. Normally with barley, you can have whole grain
or high iron availability. Fermenting it with the micro-fungus Rhizopus
* (something my colleagues at CABI
know a lot about), she has managed to preserve all the benefits of a high
fibre-whole grain, high folate food, while doubling the availability of the iron
it contains. Eklund Jonsson points out that while it was designed as a highly
nutritious foodstuff for vegetarians, the fact that it is produced from barley
or oats – locally produced in Sweden; might also make it an attractive choice
for consumers of the ‘green’ persuasion.

But seriously – however much responsibility we are willing to accept for
using up all the oil, do we really deserve this?

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