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Thread: Epigenomes anyone?

  1. #1

    Default Epigenomes anyone?

    I discovered a new word today that I'm sure anyone with knowledge of genetics is already familiar with: epigenomes.

    According to the National Human Gemone Reasearch Institute

    What is the epigenome?
    The epigenome is a multitude of chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do.

    The reason this came up is because of an msn.com article about University of California, Los Angeles, molecular biologist Tuck C. Ngun conducting research on the link between genetics and sexual orientation.


    Quote Originally Posted by A Los Angeles Times article referenced by MSN
    By imprinting themselves on the epigenome [] environmental influences may powerfully affect how an individual's genes express themselves over the course of his life. Ngun's findings suggest they may interact with genes to nudge sexual orientation in one direction or the other.
    I have long been a fan of imprinting as the best theory as to how specific sexual desires are acquired and, to me, the epigenome has the potential to be the missing link that establishes the connection between genetics and environment when it comes to sexuality.

    I would like to expand on Ngun's position a bit. The expression "sexual orientation" is misleading because it implies homosexuality/heterosexuality is some kind of unique, black and white distinction in the realm of human sexuality. People who are not asexual are biologically programmed to be sexually stimulated by certain objects and/or activities. The things that trigger a sexual response vary with the individual, but, biologically, they are all part of the same mechanism. Sexual stimulation can be triggered by any combination of male characteristics, female characteristics, animal characteristics, or just about any object you can think of including blood, hair, balloons, panties, shoes and diapers. Any label we apply to specific desires may have a strong social bias, but the distinction is an artificial one as they are all the same in terms of physical sexuality. I'm ignoring psychological factors here, such as mental illnesses, because that is a different subject.

    Does this sound reasonable so far?

  2. #2

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    Sounds quite plausible to me. I'm also in favour of the imprinting theory. It seems to explain how certain desires may have been established, but I believe some form of trauma is also a key element. That does not necessarily imply something sinister, it could be as simple as intense vulnerability or feeling abandoned etc. The trauma response that initiated imprinting may also explain why desires are heightened at stressful times.
    Just a thought.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Where I think this idea is more interesting than simply imprinting leading to object attachment, is the whole identity thing. I'm speaking AB. Of course for most of us we keep acquiring and developing our identity as we become adults, but for some reason there remains a persona trapped within a set developmental framework, integrated with the whole person yet distinctively present as well. I'm not fully convinced that this orientation is purely sexual in nature, I think its origins are different, however I can see how future encounters may have further altered the genomes.

  3. #3

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    I get at what you are trying to put together but unfortunately i think you are mixing up two different process that act entirely different.

    I do agree that there is an element of imprinting with fetishism but this is more of a neuropsychological process rather then a genetic/epigenetic one. This is because the ability to imprint something onto the brain is actually something that has bene performed over and over again. Just look at training pets, that is exactly what imprinting is (albeit, we don't go out of our way to imprint sexual things onto pets). Ill explain a little bit further about why i think its more of a neuropsychological thing rather then an epigenetic thing in a moment.

    First, i want to talk about genetics/epigenetics. If you think of a persons DNA, it contains all the required information to be able to produce all the things in the human body and it is able to tell not only how particular cells are to function but how they should go about organising themselves together. In more recent times there have been genes that have been found that may be related to sexual orientation (although as we don't understand how this gene functions or expresses itself we are unsure about it, plus there are people with the gene that do not fit that sexual orientation). All in all, if you were to add up all the DNA genes you would get a fully functional human being, nothing more and nothing less.

    Epigenetics is a way to try to understand why certain genes are turned on or off. This was discovered in a community in Sweden due to the fact that there was a significant rise in the number of heart attacks in the community. Luckily this community has not had their genetics changed much (i.e. no intermingling with other communities/countries/ethnicities in terms of breeding) and the family trees are well traceable in this community. What they noticed was that in the people who had heart attacks, their grandparents went through a famine. The only noticed that people who had this background and became affluent (i.e. well fed, and improved wealth) were more likely to have heart attacks but those that were of a lower socioeconomic status did not. This was thought to be due to the fact that the epigene related to heart disease was stitched on during the famine and passed down to their grandchildren.

    The main reason why they thought this is that there is no way that mutation to DNA would be able to cause such a rapid change to the expression of genes (let alone the ability to define a specific environmental event). DNA takes many years to be altered in such a way, but epigenetic can be altered throughout a persons lifetime, mostly by environmental aspects (diet being a significant part of this but also stress and others).

    Now, going back to the imprinting and epigenetic. I think it is unlikely that specific fetishisms are simply due to an alteration of epigenetic. What would be more likely is that depending upon the expression of the epigenome would determine how likely it is that someone could develop any fetishism. Then, the neuropsychological component of imprinting that specific object would results in someone developing a particular fetish for whatever object that it is. I think that it is this way as if you look at people who are ABDL, if epigenetic were involved (or even genetics for that matter), then there would be more people who from AB/DL parents would be likely to be AB/DL as well. And as far as i am aware, i don't believe this to be the case. What would be interesting to see is if the children of AB/DL (or any other fetish for that matter) are more or less likely to develop any sort of fetish. That would provide more information into the ability of someone to be able to be imprinted and if this can be passed down. But that is not something that has been locked into.

    The other thing that makes this really difficult is that even with epigenetic, it does not completely explain why some people develop a particular disease and why other people who have the same gene don't develop it. Yes, epigenetic does help to provide a link as to why the expression of some genes is different, but then why is it that if the same gene is present and people are living in the same sorts of condition that people get that condition at different times in their lifetime? And that is because the penetrance (or ability of the gene to express itself) is variable in people, and we haven't exactly figured out how that works at this stage.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by ozbub View Post
    Sounds quite plausible to me. I'm also in favour of the imprinting theory. It seems to explain how certain desires may have been established, but I believe some form of trauma is also a key element. That does not necessarily imply something sinister, it could be as simple as intense vulnerability or feeling abandoned etc. The trauma response that initiated imprinting may also explain why desires are heightened at stressful times.
    Just a thought.
    Trauma certainly has a psychological affect on our lives but I want to try to avoid that aspect of the discussion for now.



    Where I think this idea is more interesting than simply imprinting leading to object attachment, is the whole identity thing. I'm speaking AB. Of course for most of us we keep acquiring and developing our identity as we become adults, but for some reason there remains a persona trapped within a set developmental framework, integrated with the whole person yet distinctively present as well. I'm not fully convinced that this orientation is purely sexual in nature, I think its origins are different, however I can see how future encounters may have further altered the genomes.
    Being "trapped within a set developmental framework" sounds like an apt description of how I understand the results of imprinting. You are right, imprinting is not purely sexual, and it's good to keep that in mind.



    Quote Originally Posted by Zeek61
    I do agree that there is an element of imprinting with fetishism but this is more of a neuropsychological process rather then a genetic/epigenetic one. This is because the ability to imprint something onto the brain is actually something that has been performed over and over again. Just look at training pets, that is exactly what imprinting is...
    From what I've read, researchers specifically state that this is one of the things that imprinting is not. Generally, anything that can be learned from experience or repetition can be unlearned, whereas imprinted characteristics tend to be permanent. Also, conventional learning is an ongoing process that continues throughout an individual's lifespan, while much of imprinting appears to have specific windows of opportunity in our early development.



    Quote Originally Posted by Zeek61
    Now, going back to the imprinting and epigenetic. I think it is unlikely that specific fetishisms are simply due to an alteration of epigenetic. What would be more likely is that depending upon the expression of the epigenome would determine how likely it is that someone could develop any fetishism.
    I respect your knowledge of genetics, and I believe your statement here is essentially true, but the term "fetishism", because of it's bias, can easily distort the meaning. Let me try to explain how I understand it.

    Imprinting appears to be the natural process by which we acquire certain characteristics, and epigenomes may be the physical aspect of that process. As the National Human Gemone Reasearch Institute puts it, "the ability of the epigenome to adjust to the pressures of life appears to be required for normal human health". This doesn't mean that epigenetics is only involved with imprinting in early development, but that it is a reasonable mechanism to consider when looking for explanations for our observations of imprinting.

    Research in imprinting tends to indicate we will be imprinted with certain characteristics in early childhood, and our sexual preferences will be among those characteristics. Again, it's important to state that imprinting is not the same as psychological learning through experience, trauma, or repetition. You statement that epigenetics could " ...determine how likely it is that someone could develop any fetishism" is biased towards abnormal desires, especially sexual desires, because that is how the term "fetish" is normally interpreted. The distinction I'm trying to make here is that I believe it is genetics that sets us up to acquire most of our emotional desires through imprinting via epigenetics. If we want to call these desires "fetishes" then that term would have to be redefined to be much more inclusive. For example, being sexually turned on by women would be a woman fetish. Rather than redefine "fetishes" let's substitute "emotional characteristics", and change the statement to - "Genetics determines how likely we will be imprinted with emotional characteristics in early development", and I am in complete agreement. The only thing I would add is that imprinting is the genetic "norm" for human development.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Drifter View Post
    Research in imprinting tends to indicate we will be imprinted with certain characteristics in early childhood, and our sexual preferences will be among those characteristics. Again, it's important to state that imprinting is not the same as psychological learning through experience, trauma, or repetition. You statement that epigenetics could " ...determine how likely it is that someone could develop any fetishism" is biased towards abnormal desires, especially sexual desires, because that is how the term "fetish" is normally interpreted. The distinction I'm trying to make here is that I believe it is genetics that sets us up to acquire most of our emotional desires through imprinting via epigenetics. If we want to call these desires "fetishes" then that term would have to be redefined to be much more inclusive. For example, being sexually turned on by women would be a woman fetish. Rather than redefine "fetishes" let's substitute "emotional characteristics", and change the statement to - "Genetics determines how likely we will be imprinted with emotional characteristics in early development", and I am in complete agreement. The only thing I would add is that imprinting is the genetic "norm" for human development.
    The big issue that i have with this part here, and why i think that epigenetic is not the cause of imprinting is because of the fact that epigenetic is able to be modified over the lifetime of an individual. This means that if this was a genetic thing, it could be turned on/off throughout a persons lifetime (which would result in a person realistically going through phases of ABDLism or any other "fetish" (a term i use loosely because at this stage, that is the closest thing that ABDL could be categorised in. However, it is not a term a i really put a lot of faith in) would be turned on and off depending upon what is happening in a persons life. This is not what actually happens with people here. If you notice, yes people might go off ABDLism when things happen in their life but ultimately, the process is still there and the person just might not be thinking much about it, or has their attentions re-directed to something else.

    So epigenetic are turned on and off, and that is where i suggest that epigenetics plays a role. I suspect that during a stressful period in our lifetime it 'activates' particular genes which makes us more susceptible to imprinting any kind of fetish (what i have listed above as something that i use loosely). This is the only role i believe that epigenetics has on imprinting. However, that still doesn't explain why some people develop this and others don't. And that is why i suggest the use of the term "fetish" as

    I say this is a neuropsychological imprinting, but you have to understand exactly how the brain pathways work. These pathways can be re-directed but once they are developed ("learnt") by the brain then they are not able to generally be reversed. Look at people with OCD. These people have brain pathways that developed in the brain which causes them to have particular compulsions. They are something they cannot control once they are initiated and even with therapy, they are not able to be reversed. These pathways can be re-directed with therapy, and people are able o find ways to avoid initiating these pathways, or to minimise their impact, but ultimately, these pathways are set once they have formed. That is a neuropsychological process that i was talking about. It is the way that the pathways of the brain are structured to form in particular behaviours/addictions/etc (it can relate to anything to do with our behaviour), and that then can lead on to psychological aspects - for some its mental health issues, for others it could be compulsions, and others might not have any of those components.

    Back to what i said about imprinting behaviours onto pets. These things aren't unlearnt once the pathways have developed. This has been shown by Ivan Pavlov when he trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell (regardless of if food was present or not). This is the neuropsychological process i was talking about. It is relatable to "conditioning" the brain to respond in particular ways to particular things. These behaviours persist and continue onwards even after the initial stimulus has been removed.

    Ultimately, imprinting is believed to be a neuropsychological process. And these processes (as i mentioned above) are not similar to just learning about something but are a physical structural change in the brain. These kinds of changes are not simply able to be re-written, but they can be re-directed or modified. And this is exactly what we see in the behaviours of people with ABDLism. They feel more strongly with ABDLism when they are going through difficult times/stress/etc, and other times there is a particular level that they feel. And yet others are able to completely re-direct their behaviours if the situation is right and don't tend to think much about ABDLism.

    The problem i find is that i thing we tend to look at things too narrowly. And that is not the way to look at things with genetics (or even epigenetics). The expression of genes is a complex things, and simply having the a particular gene and having it on or off doesn't mean that someone will develop ABDLism, or being homosexual, or asexual, or any other particularly "emotional behaviour". That is why i think we are looking a bit too close and trying to find a way to make sense of why we are like we are. Instead, we should be looking at things that are similar and that develop early in childhood (or if they develop later things that develop at the same time as these). And that is where i use the term fetish to supplement, as sexual characteristics also develop early in childhood, it is just that we aren't orientated with sex in mind (this is a freudian theory thing that, whilst i don't think he got it completely right, does have some relevance to development of particular things in early childhood that aren't realised or activated until later on). This isn't something that becomes active until later on. Looking at all of these, we would probably see that epigenetics might control when particular things develop. But once it is developed then this is a neuropsychological process that continues the behaviour on regardless of what the genes or epigenetics are doing.

  6. #6

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    Thanks for the information, Zeek. Very interesting, and like you say it's very complex. One of the problems with this discussion is that the term "imprinting" has different meanings depending on the context. The site I linked to uses the term in a narrow sense to mean the genetic pattern that remains after "[t]he epigenome distinguishes between the two copies of an imprinted gene and determines which is switched on".



    Quote Originally Posted by Zeek61
    Ultimately, imprinting is believed to be a neuropsychological process. And these processes ... are a physical structural change in the brain.
    This is probably the best general definition to go with. Theories about neural pathways are logical and fit in well with our current understanding of the brain.

    What gives the appearance of disagreement here is my fault. When I talk about imprinting research and theories I am referring to studies that use the term "imprinting" to refer to a specific way in which this neuropsychological process can be activated; a way that differs from our normal understanding of how learning works. This is a third definition of imprinting that adds to the confusion, and, as far as I know, it is still used in some situations.

    This research consistently showed that healthy animal development is dependent on imprinting (your definition) that takes place at certain, short periods and that do not require any of the normal learning methods such as experience, trauma, repetition, reward, or punishment. The classic example is how a baby goose identifies its mother. This would seem to be instinctive behavior but is actually imprinted on the gosling at some point within the first 12 hours of life. If the mother is not present at the right time, the baby will imprint on something else, even an inanimate object like a ball or a boot. After that, whatever the baby imprinted on permanently becomes the "mother" and the chick will reject the real mother if it imprinted on something else.

    Gotta go for now. I'd like to continue later.

  7. #7

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    Fascinating!

    Sorry for the late chime-in but this corner of discussion is integral in the realm anything related to hyper-sexuality or even sexual abeyance. Even if the dots aren't connected today, they may someday.

    Hyper-sexuality, just like alcoholism can be buried in the human genome, but they can be determined as two different tendencies altogether. Some variances can be blamed on surroundings while some can be indicative of preset tendencies. These scenarios are known as triggers and are usually only expounded upon or explored when there is an interruption in a perceived or preconceived set of normalcy. When the set of normalcy is challenged or broken we are predisposed to setting new limits or even just redefining them. There are literally thousands of examples of this but these two examples can be used to understand how acute the differences can be in such seemingly similar variances.

    From the outside looking in there is no other variance other than a "problem", but within there are a multitude of cause-and-effect drivers.

    As infants we are quick in striving to learn about the world around us. We inexplicably start the process of defining 'normal' and weigh our role and place in that setting. The result is that usually the situation and setting sets our parameters and definition. Imprinting can become crucial in this stage. At this early stage there is NO other definition or example to learn from. We are in essence a product of our surroundings.

    Genetically we inherit the 'tools' to mitigate or fail at our early attempts to self-identify. We are also predisposed to these same genetic tools entering early adolescence. At either of these stages are we subject of perceived reciprocation. It either coincides or it challenges our desires or definitions.

    So, the example could be set as: An alcoholic is subject to a genetic predisposition to abusing alcohol but may never find the need or avenue to explore such vices versus the sexual deviant who finds fulfillment within a healthy relationship. Each scenario could be alarmingly different given separate circumstance.

    Any gene that is switched "on" or "off" does not inexplicably determine every outcome though it has the precursor in most. In the topic of individual desire and personality, I believe that through the complexity of the human brain and it's conscious thought vs it's unconscious thought, there is a diverse and complex biological algorithm at play. We gravitate or are attracted to some things while being expelled or disgusted by others.

    This topic is a wholesome example of the conscious vs subconscious mind. We rarely understand the choices we make and are even more baffled by the consequences.

  8. #8

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    The epigenome was a new area of interest for me because of the possible link with sexual orientation, but I don't know enough about it to form any specific beliefs as to what the connection is. I will have to wait for more information on Ngun's research.

    The idea of "preset tendencies" fits in well with my understanding of imprinting as a normal biological process in early development. Some of our tendencies are "preset" genetically before we are born, but imprinting appears to complete that process after we are born. With our sexuality it's as if we are born with a bunch of empty slots designed to hold sense images of what we will find attractive or repellent. Imprinting, as I use the term, is the process that fills those slots using our perception of things in our surroundings, with an evolutionary bias towards things that promote reproduction.

    To me "unconscious thought" is one of those concepts that seems easy to accept in this modern era, but is actually so deep, philosophically, that it is mind boggling and impossible to scientifically define. That would be an interesting subject on its own.

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