Hess Associates

What is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype (observable characteristics) caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence – hence the name epi (over, above, outer) genetics, some of which are able to be inherited. Essentially it refers to functionally relevant modifications to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence.

It is also a reflection of the genome’s response to the environment, resulting in chemical modifications of the actual DNA (addition of methyl groups) and of enzymes or proteins that control the structure and/or activity of the genome.

Whereas the DNA (genome) sequence (code) does not change, the epigenome will, affecting which genes are expressed, and possibly leading to abnormal cellular behaviour and cancer.

For example, a certain protein may be involved in not allowing a certain gene to be expressed (direct the production of a product) but changes to this protein may allow expression, upsetting a biochemical balance. Dangerously, this change may survive cell division and continue to be enforced.

Conversely, some genes express proteins involved in tumour suppression, and any epigenetic changes can prevent this expression, and allow tumour growth.

Any technology which can artificially interfere with epigenetic behaviour can have an effect on cell growth and function, and potentially reverse a cancerous trend or direction.
One such place that studies epigenetics/epigenomics in Canada is the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver, BC, one of 2 Canadian centres studying epigenetics under the umbrella of the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment, and Health Research Consortium,. Here with massive DNA sequencing power, scientists are seeking to determine how short lived or stable alterations in protein or DNA (DNA can be modified by methylation without a change in sequence) can allow our genomes to develop disease or stay healthy.
Already, clinical trials are being carried out using epigenetic therapeutic approaches, to treat leukemia, and this is just the beginning.

Studies continue as well in Europe, Germany, USA, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and as part of the International Human Epigenome Consortium Assay Standards working group.

Excerpted in part from http://biotechnologyfocus.ca/?p=2203

2013 Toronto HotDocs Expose of the Dangers of the Internet

Generally the birth of the internet is regarded as 1993, when Mosaic, the original web browser, was released. [Of course Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, is best known as the inventor of the world wide web, having made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and implementing the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid November 1989].

Since 1993 of course, Mosaic turned into Netscape, other general online search engines were born and devoured, and certainly in North America Google and to a lesser extent Bing (which has incorporated Yahoo) have come to predominate.

Along with this we have seen the dramatic rise of (and in some cases fall of ) a variety of social media sites, including MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and many more.

The HotDocs festival chose to showcase 3 spell-binding perilous internet scenarios –
(1) Downloaded: The rise and fall of the MP3 music peer-to-peer file-sharing site Napster, outlining how, in 1998, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker (both 18 year old Americans) revolutionized the accessibility of “free” music worldwide, leading to panic amongst musicians and the music industry, creating a no-going-back expectation amongst music fans. Consequences for both Napster and its creators, and the music industry itself, were dire – by the time Napster was shuttered, other file sharing sites had sprung up, and the manner in which music was disseminated or paid for had changed forever. Additionally, the music industry also went after some of the actual users of the service.
Many of the employees of Napster moved to Apple and created iTunes.

(2) The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard, TPB AFK: the rise and fall of the movie
peer-to-peer file sharing site TPB (BitTorrent), again outlines how Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg (young Swedes) affected Hollywood the way Napster affected the music industry. In this case, not only was the site under attack by Hollywood, but one of the creators is in jail in Sweden, one is facing ajail term and one is abroad and is being sought by authorities.
In the cases of both Napster and TPB, the creators made it very clear that they did not have the music or movies on their servers, but that they had merely written software allowing people to share with each other if they so chose.

While both of these scenarios lead to much reflection on copyright, copyright laws, and internet freedoms, the third documentary hits closer to home.
(3) Terms and Conditions May Apply: Here we saw how we are all held hostage
by the terms and conditions to which we must agree to use many sites. It was pointed out, and we know this, that almost no-one reads these terms and conditions but we merely (and trustingly) put the little check mark in the little box (of course if we don’t, we can’t gain access to the site). The documentary outlines how Google, Facebook, iTunes, and others, have steadily reduced the privacy protection they offer, to the point where pretty much all information gathered is aggregated into large databases, mined, sold for profit, and most likely could be used to infringe on individual freedoms. It was made clear that GPS equipped cell phones, ubiquitous cameras in big cities such as New York, shopping habits (imagine a scenario where your insurance company knows every ailment you may have based on what you picked up at the nearby pharmacy), the seeing computer eye of the CIA, or the NSA, or any agency in whatever country you live, the advent of Google Glass, all may be leading to the ‘Big Brother’ world, if we sit idly by checking “I agree”. Check out www.tacma.net for further details.

TPB AFK is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOKXCEwo_8.
Downloaded is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOKXCEwo_8
TACMA is in the process of being digitized and should be available soon at http://www.tacma.net.

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