Epigenetics - A New Example - Possible Multi-generational Impacts from Nicotine
Epigenetics continues to change and shape thinking on disease processes and causation. It's an important topic for product liability lawyers - and corporate lawyers and insurers - for today and tomorrow.
A new example even shows up in the current issue of The Economist. The article highlights new research suggesting that nicotine cause epigenetic changes with multi-generational impacts. The impact? Asthma in the children and grand-children of mothers who take in nicotine. The ScienceDaily summary is here, and the paper itself is here.
The study is in rats, and it's early yet, but the findings certainly are intriguing in an age when our children are experiencing apparent increases in some forms of asthma. The published article states the conclusion as follows:
Reading the news certainly was enough to make me wonder about a possible link between my mother's former smoking (and my former smoking), and the occasional asthma attacks suffered during soccer games by one of my otherwise athletic and apparently healthy daughters.
Imagine children and grand-children as plaintiffs against big tobacco. The distributors of disease in a stick will not be able to trot out the usual defenses. Perhaps I've missed something, but I'm not aware of a single big tobacco warning about possible harms to children or grandchildren.
Also, consider the risk and possibilities for other industries. And when thinking about warnings and foreseeability, consider the following underlined sentence from an excerpt from the Economist article:
"ONE of biology’s hottest topics is epigenetics. The term itself covers a multitude of sins. Strictly speaking, it refers to the regulation of gene expression by the chemical modification of DNA, or of the histone proteins in which DNA is usually wrapped. This modification is either the addition of methyl groups (a carbon atom and three hydrogens) to the DNA or of acetyl groups (two carbons, three hydrogens and an oxygen) to the histones. Methylation switches genes off. Acetylation switches them on. Since, in a multicellular organism, different cells need different genes to be active, such regulation is vital.