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Biology

Winter 2019

The genetics of trauma

Medical researchers are beginning to ask a question: Can the effects of a trauma experienced by one generation somehow be passed on to subsequent generations? Could the deeply traumatizing experience of surviving, for example, genocide or severe malnutrition negatively impact the health of subsequent generations of survivors’ children?

Jews, homosexuals, and others experienced brutal persecution during World War Two. Contemporary Native Americans are the offspring of survivors of a concerted effort at genocide, both physical and cultural, through the Indian Wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the boarding school system that stripped Indigenous North Americans of their cultural knowledge, including their languages and … » More …

DNA autoradiogram in a petri dish (Photo Rafe Swan/Alamy)
Spring 2019

Genomics fills a gap for adoptees

If you have gene variants such as BRCA or Lynch Syndrome, both of which may lead to difficult-to-treat cancers, “you’ve noticed it,” says Thomas May, an endowed professor of bioethics in Washington State University’s College of Medicine. “Noticed” is May’s measured way of saying that “multiple people in your family have died” of breast or colon cancer.

“Unless you don’t have access to family health history,” May adds.

One of the primary diagnostic tools available to doctors is family medical history. Breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions are often genetic. Knowing that a parent had a disease is important information … » More …