Friday, May 7, 2010

I Wanna...Borderline by Bonnie Rozanski

Borderline by Bonnie Rozanski

For some time I had been interested in reports that obesity, attention deficit disorder and autism were all becoming more prevalent. Autism, in particular, seemed to be suspicious. This was the initial inspiration for Borderline. Assuming that human beings' genetic make-up remains essentially unchanged, then surely the environment must be complicit. Or is it?

Then I watched a documentary on the evolution of the dog. Dmitry Belyaev, a 20th century Russian scientist, conducted ingenious studies in which wild foxes were bred over generations. Over time, Belyaev, attempting to replicate the evolution of the dog from the wolf, bred the tamest foxes to the tamest foxes. Amazingly, in only ten to twelve generations, the foxes began not only behaving like dogs but looking like dogs, with floppy ears and curly tails. Clearly, this could not be explained by genetics alone: ten generations of foxes simply is not time enough for a species to evolve.

It appeared, as I read further, that Belyaev's results were due to epigenetics: those influences of the genes but beyond the genes. These can include turning gene expression on or off, RNA, regulator genes, and gene-environment interaction. The whole topic fascinated me. We are transforming our own environment and unknowingly changing ourselves in the process. I began to wonder about how to embed all this in a plot, and imagined a family obsessed with curing their autistic son; a desperate mother, a scientist father and an older brother who feels ignored; all set in our present-day world of shopping malls and antibiotics, global air travel, and high tech gismos.

No comments: