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Published 09 August 2012 03:50, Updated 09 August 2012 05:01
After insurance, is Jim’s Fortune Telling next? Probably not. But it is something Jim Penman spends his money on. He has spent more than $1 million so far on research at Melbourne’s La Trobe University into how environmental changes can drive changes in behaviour through alterations in brain activity and biochemistry.
If, for example, a person has the potential in his or her DNA to be very smart, whether they turn out to be is influenced by factors such as nutrition in early life.
It is something he says he has wanted to study since researching his PhD in the 1980s. “It would be particularly useful in dealing with problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, delinquency, anxiety issues – those sorts of things,” he says.
“It’s got a certain relevance towards economic capacity, making people more economically capable . . . more hard-working, more disciplined.
“We’ve done certain things in rats which suggest that it’s feasible to change these things, especially if you start early enough. You change the biochemistry of the environment.”
Research into this field of epigenetics can be used to predict events to come, Penman says, listing historical examples where it could have been applied.
“You can make all sorts of predictions about people involved in the 1968 student riots. They were the ones who were born towards the end of World War II. Their mothers were more anxious and that makes epigenetic changes, which makes them more aggressive.”
Similar changes to children born during the Chinese civil war between 1945 and 1949 lay behind that country’s violent Cultural Revolution, he says.
“It’s a very precise [predictor] about what’s going to happen to society over the next few decades. I predict that certain people of certain ages are going to have certain levels of epigenetic change.”