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Dirty Minds

How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships

Kayt Sukel

Epigenetics is how the environment affects the way genes are expressed.

The genome is basically DNA double helix + messenger RNA. But don't act in isolation. Several different ways proteins can adhere to DNA and RNA to alter the way DNA functions in the cells. First way is DNA methylation, which adds new molecules to cytosine. This usually blocks the expression of a gene. Second way involves histone proteins which add acetyl group to helix, opening up more space and leading to over expression of that gene. Third way is microRNA molecules which also block gene expression.

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We start out with 2 copies of every gene, but then epigenetics shuts down one copy.

Studies of rats. Rat mothers either high grooming or low grooming in way lick their pups. Rats reared by low LG (lick and groom)mums became low LG mums themselves. Even when swapped at birth, high LG rats reared by low LG mums became low LG mums themselves. Behaviour trumping biology. Low LG rats less resilient, learned slower, and showed different mating behaviour (took longer to reach sex maturity and were far pickier in choosing mates)

Scientists found that high LG babies had methyl groups stripped off a gene for making receptors for a stress hormone (glucocorticoid). Having more receptors meant more stress hormones could be mopped up, producing more mellow, easygoing rat.

Doesn't make evolutionary sense to judge these as 'good' or 'bad'. Simply preparing the baby for the environment in different ways. (If one method 'bad' you'd expect it to have died out). "The early life environment sends signals to the genome saying 'This is the kind of world this kid is going to have to live in. let's program all these things to fit in with this world.' And then it resets the system. It makes very small changes in many different genes so that the animal can adapt to the outside world."

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Titi monkeys attach to their fathers - they get a stress response from being separated from them; they go to their dads for comfort. Which shows that no necessarily mother-child relationship - can be any caregiver.

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So epigenetics shows that environment changes baby brain. But it also changes mother - firstly to make her adore the child, giving it the love and attention it needs to thrive, and secondly by altering her risk/reward assessment system so she will (be silly enough to) want to have another child.

Other animals engage in homosexual behaviour, but (only one) other animal has a same-sex preference. (Exception is sheep where approx 8% of rams only want to mount males. There don't seem to be lesbian sheep though.)

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Most reliable way of gauging is through galvanic skin response. Almost all humans respond to sexual images 2 or 3 times stronger than any other, except epileptics. They show heightened response to religious words and images, and diminished responses to all other stimuli, including sex.

Postulate a Love Potion No 9 to make people fall in love (with you), but also a love vaccine, to either prevent you falling in love, or to help you overcome the effects of an unhappy breakup. Lot of people in market for something that will help them open up for love yet still protect their delicate hearts.

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