Sliver of light:
There is an article (Baby Blues ECONOMIST vol. 400 no. 8743 July 23, 2011 page 75) describing recent work done by Axel Meyer et al. of the University of Konstanz in Germany regarding the phenomenon long known that children of women subjected to stress during pregnancy have problems later on, specifically a higher likelihood of obesity, depression and timidity.  I did not know they went together.  I am certainly fat, but I seem to be immune to depression (which is a lucky good thing, else this whole topic would long since have driven me mad) and rather enjoy taking risks so long as the risks are social.  Risking one’s health if it can be avoided I have always regarded as just stupid.  So I would take it that my mother was not stressed when I was acooking, even though the circumstances would have unmanned a lesser female (awkward phrasing, but you get the idea).  I’m fat just because I am a slob.

Well the mechanism for those who are legitimately depressed and fat now seems to be epigenetic.  Certain sites in the fetal DNA get methyl groups bound to them during pregnancy and the mechanism can be traced from there.  I was reading the article mostly because the title misled me, but it was interesting enough.  Then they activated the IED.  Drugs are being developed to remove those methyl groups. 

Well I knew, and have remarked I think, that epigenetic mechanisms control the effect of genes and it is pretty well established that suppressing genes with methyl groups is the primary epigenetic mechanism.  And I knew there were demethylating agents.  They have an application in clinical medicine.  What I had always assumed was that to be very effective the meds should be given during fetal growth, when those tagged DNA stands are replicating. 

But they have some effect, else their use in clinical practice would be futile.  The side effects are of heroic proportion, however, and you wouldn’t want to take them for fun.  So if drugs are being developed, I suppose it means less disagreeable ones, and I suppose there is no need to give them until the demethylation becomes desirable.

Cut to infertility from lack on consanguinity.  The effect appears far too fast for it to be genetic.  It must be epigenetic and if so quite plausibly it is because of methylation.  Consider just for fun a pre zygotic cause of infertility.  Say there are about a thousand sites that may or may not be methylated and those sites and their tags get inherited with a moderate amount of change, say about half changing in a generation.  Then when the egg and sperm size each other up they compare some product of those sites.  If there are enough matches, things go ahead.  If not enough, then the process squishes to a halt.  Remember that is just a “suppose,” but attend.

So a happy couple wants to have a baby.  Shrugging of post zygotic effects, for which of course there is massive evidence, the difference between egg and sperm might be resolved by demethylating both members of the couple.  You now have the liberals’ wet dream.  Anybody can have babies with anybody in the world.  All right, the data aren’t in on a few small and very ancient African tribes, but for the bulk of us there is no great chance of any genetic problem.  Bypass the pre zygotic safety latch and the pregnancy develops.

Yes, the post zygotic mechanism will probably nail you, but maybe, just maybe, it will be eliminated in the offspring.  So the couple demethylates for their own success and at the same time they reset the post zygotic sites on their young.  Thereafter fertility is normal again. 

Maybe.  That would mean I could quit this and pursue my real love, which is having fun.  But besides the clinical threats (What’s a really good word for a threat that is very scary, hard to predict, capable of killing you, usually impossible to see until it is too late, spooky and shouldn’t be there in a sane universe?  Surely this is not the only one.) there is a social threat that I think nobody would want to stomach.

What you wind up with is two populations.  In one population everybody has undergone the treatment and can mate at random for a couple of generations before being treated again.  In other words, rich folks.  The other population is the rest of us.  And we are already taking the long walk to oblivion.  Eventually there is nobody left but the offspring of the rich. 

A  county near here that shall go nameless once decided that there were so many of them that were rich that they would just fix up the zoning laws so that you couldn’t live in the county if you were not rich.  This, incredibly, they managed to do.  Now who was going to baby sit their children, repair their roofs, cut their grass, pump their gas, wait there tables and so forth?  None of that work would earn enough to let you live in the county.  They had to give it up. 

Well, maybe some day we will all be rich.  We’ll have robots for the work.  But I hope that does not come about by having the contemporary rich exterminate the rest of us.

Still, gloomy as the prospect of fertility through epigenetic manipulation might be, it beats extinction.

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