Monday, 29 June 2009

Scare the public!!!

It seems that one of the duties of so called "science journalism" is to scare the general public witless. It is not so difficult, bearing in mind that the public is generally witless to start with, but let's focus on scaring them then.

What would you think when reading the following title: Caesarean delivery can alter DNA ? Monster mutants caused by cesarean birth? Permanent changes of DNA? ... Horror...

Yet this is the modern world: the title of the original publication is much less interesting: Epigenetic modulation at birth – altered DNA-methylation in white blood cells after Caesarean section
by T Schlinzig, S Johansson, A Gunnar, TJ Ekström and M Norman.
This does not sound so scary, does it?
And what you find in the abstract is
Aim: Delivery by C-section (CS) has been associated with increased risk for allergy, diabetes and leukaemia. Whereas the underlying cause is unknown, epigenetic change of the genome has been suggested as a candidate molecular mechanism for perinatal contributions to later disease risk. We hypothesized that mode of delivery affects epigenetic activity in newborn infants.

Methods: A total of 37 newborn infants were included. Spontaneous vaginal delivery (VD) occurred in 21, and 16 infants were delivered by elective CS. Blood was sampled from the umbilical cord and 3–5 days after birth. DNA-methylation was analyzed in leucocytes.

Results: Infants born by CS exhibited higher DNA-methylation in leucocytes compared with that of those born by VD (p < 0.001). After VD, newborn infants exhibited stable levels of DNA-methylation, as evidenced by comparing cord blood values with those 3–5 days after birth (p = 0.55). On postnatal days 3–5, DNA-methylation had decreased in the CS group (p = 0.01) and was no longer significantly different from that of VD (p = 0.10).

Conclusion: DNA-methylation is higher in infants delivered by CS than in infants vaginally born. Although currently unknown how gene expression is affected, or whether epigenetic differences related to mode of delivery are long-lasting, our findings open a new area of clinical research with potentially important public health implications.

Seems the effect is temporary, causes unknown and effects unknown as well. OK - I have nothing against the continued research, the topic may be important - but should Karolinska Institute really be involved in scaring everyone?

Or is it just my imagination that DNA is a dirty word? I remember the protesters holding up placards with "we do not want DNA in our tomatoes". Is this the time to ban DNA from our children as well?

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