Thursday, January 2, 2014

Jumping Genes Linked to Schizophrenia: the social function of Neuropsychological affliction and Viruses

A new study, published today (Jan. 2) in the journal Neuron, suggests these jumping genes may alter how neurons (or nerve cells in the brain) form during development, thereby increasing the risk of schizophrenia. "LINE-1 retrotransposition may be a mechanism to generate cognitive diversity in the human population," Muotri said. "This mechanism may have evolved to create outliers in the population, people with extraordinary abilities. On the other hand, the other end of the spectrum may be patients with schizophrenia or autism."

This is exactly as I thought. Because it is usually the younger children in the family that are afflicted with this disease (rather than the first child to thrive). Biology favors diversity. Perhaps an intact, extended group performing varied complex tasks together or in the service of a bigger goal engendered a need to diversify temperaments and abilities quickly (within a single generation, during a time extreme stress). Diversity in cognitive ability is one example. Often the oldest child is deemed "the smart one"; in most cultures parents make a greater investment in the oldest child. The young parents of a first child have the energy and motivation to invest in the first child. Whereas the youngest child is often the biggest (most physically adept). The youngest is coddled, humored, given physical (simple) tasks. Perhaps in the small groups common in early human societies, this jumping gene allowed for behavioral and temperament variation within an extended family.

Consider that humans remained in isolated groups (with limited gene pools) for a long period of development. If we stretch back to proto-humans, we see hundreds of millions of years of this kind of isolated, small group evolution. Consider that these complex social groups had a need for coordination within them – and diversification. In these extended families, each child played a role: for the oldest child (the first child to thrive) cognitive predilection is favored – in cases of limited resources – over physical size or strength.

Populations in these complex social groups probably escalated quickly (due to intelligence, and the ability to protect themselves, and to exploit available resources). Could this complex social development have engendered a need to quickly change the distribution of behaviors among siblings and cousins? For example, due to the need to differentiate among siblings when distributing an array of tasks? Parents delight in describing the differences among their brood – among siblings and cousins.

This genetic aberration persisted for a reason. There has been a recognized “usefulness” associated with one or more of these afflictions. Consider the southern generals Grant and Sherman, both determined to have classic Bipolar tendencies, the expression of which mirrored their state of mind as they planned for battle, wherein they prevailed despite bouts of depression and doubt leading up to the battle. Children within a family seem to sometimes “complement” each other in tendencies / personality. These afflictions temper behavior in very specific and predictable ways, and affect: the time of day you are active, the type of activity you prefer, how long you can sustain focus, how you make decisions, whether you respond physically and quickly when angered, whether you stay angry when riled. Today we see these behaviors as afflictions. But in a time when people rarely reached 40, these qualities may have conferred a short term advantage.

Consider what benefits untenable rage could confer in a battle to the death. Consider also that when one is suicidal, one defies death, and has a wish to be extinguished themselves. Consider that thoughts about death as well as anger occur spontaneously in Bipolar patients during mixed Bipolar or rapid cycling phases. Consider this phase of dangerous mental patterns usually commences at age 45 among Bipolar patients – an age that was considered no longer useful for almost all of human existence. Suicidal behavior or thoughts are typical of Bipolar patients in specific states of mind, and these states of mind can be excited by circumstances (i.e., before battle). They can be, at time, easily swayed to passionate acts.

Age of the parents is pointed to as a culprit in mental health disease. This makes sense as well; older parents no longer have the energy or interest to invest (time, resources) in their youngest children. These children, then, must possess unusual ability to be useful in specific ways. Even a flair for the dramatic becomes useful here.

We already know that a jumping gene for obesity can be switched on when the body detects a dearth of nutrition in the male and female source of sperm and egg (whether this dearth is caused by lack of sufficient food resources, or by ingestion of junk food). This switch ensures the quick generation of fat from meagre food – as a way to give the child the best chance of success. These genetic switches seem to flip in one direction only (can we change that?!), so the resulting child will forever have a metabolism advantage – but only in a food poor environment. In other words: a short sighted fix for an immediate situation – which in today's world becomes a problem.

Now consider how this switch mechanism could operate in extended families. If we can turn obesity on and off for short term survival advantage, why not turn on a genetic switch to make sure that a brood of siblings and cousins differ significantly from each other: in temperament, in “intelligence” (a complex equation), in physical strength, in physical coordination, ability to focus, etc. This growing population would become vulnerable to stressors such as famine, drought, viral and bacterial infections, poor sanitation and hygiene, increased physical demands, growing population, a sudden increase in complexity - due to introduction of Strangers. Any of these conditions could potentially benefit from the genetic aberrations we today call Mental Health Disorder.

Going back to an earlier post on Virus and neuropsychologic affliction: Is it a coincidence that neuropsychologic diseases “mimic” other diseases - speciflcally those caused by viruses? The need for diversification occurred quickly i.e., at the point when a quickly multiplying population had insufficient gene pool diversity due to geographic isolation and genetic similarity across the group. Why not reach into our ancient viral toolbox – the code formerly known as “junk dna” – to instigate a quick-fix for diversity among one group: siblings and cousins.

We know Bipolar is equally represented across all ethnic and social groups, including Africans. We might deduce from this distribution that the genetic aberration is very old, probably older than the human race. Schizophrenia is known to affect dogs. Does the gene work in the same way in dogs? In Chimps and Bonobos? Dogs and apes live in complex isolated social groups, relying on collaborative (distributed) cognition to coordinate efforts. It's high time to trace this genetic trait backwards.

These traits – which are recognized as useful in limited, specific environments – are now considered a scourge on society. When did we start to demonize these conditions? What turned these peculiar genetic expressions from a late-life inconvenience in early social groups, into a thing to be scorned and shunned once society became more rigorously structured? And what purpose did this demonization serve? Obviously it protects a community – to avoid those with a viral or genetic disorder (do you see the connection here between viruses and genetic neuro disorders?) The similarity in behaviors – despite a different trigger or onset pattern – allows the community to recognize a familiar problem– without shifting gears. The virus itself – or our bodies knowledge of viruses (aka junk dna) made this connection for us. The resulting behavior – fear and avoidance – may have been an intended result.

Now that we understand that these afflictions prevailed for a reason, can we stop blaming the afflicted for carrying and expressing these mutations?

Even viruses have a use, though it is harder to understand. Viruses are shared and distributed (sometimes readily, sometimes reluctantly ) among animal species and even (if you look back long enough) between plant and animal species. When a virus "jumps" (successfully infects) a new group (for example, when it was discovered that humans started to become infected with SARS or avian flue, or with H1N1 – swine flu), it is considered a threat. In fact, the newly infected population acquires not just a new disease, it also acquires a transposon which it carries indefinitely into the future. It acquires the code, or the knowledge of this disease. This "knowledge" confers immunity among some, but not all, of the newly afflicted group. This knowledge serves many purposes – which we are only beginning to understand.

The way I see it, viruses are a communication link between the natural environment and the complex organisms that exist in it. Their simplicity, their primitive traits, their vulnerability, their position at the front line, allows them to function in this way. During times of stress (cataclysmic environmental events, mass exodus of populations into unknown territories, man-made pollution at acute levels) viruses respond and become active. They change themselves, and, in doing so, confer what they learn about environmental conditions to us, through us.

To be sick, temporarily or permanently, is to be actively involved in this communication process. The afflicted should not be feared. We represent the active process of survival – which is never-ending.

Link to article 'Jumping Genes' Linked to Schizophrenia: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/01/jumping-genes-linked-schizophrenia

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