Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Genes, breastfeeding, and IQ

The media and the Human Genome Science community are determined to spread the belief that some specific gene is the trigger for higher IQ. We are to believe that one specific gene called the FADS2 gene (which stands for Fatty Acid Desaturase 2) raises IQ by 7 points, if one is breastfed. They found that 90% of the babies studied had this gene. But 10% had a different version of the gene and did not have their IQ raised despite breastfeeding. Hm...This discovery is based on two studies. One done in New Zealnad in 1972 and 1973. And the other study done in the UK in 1994 and 1995. They say breastfeeding status was assessed. Okay I am at a disadvantage I haven't seen these studies but the most important question is how was breastfeeding defined? Without proper definition, studies on infant feeding are mostly worthless. I would suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is rarely practiced. So to determine the health impact of infant feeding with babies who are mixed feed or given water, or anything but breastmilk is a fruitless task. Were the babies that were breastfed but showed little or no raising of IQ exclusively breastfed?? Without the studies, one can only speculate, but it will be of interest to see the data.

More relevant to my interests is the commercial aspects os FADS2. If we want to produce Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) this enzyme will help us make the conversion. Oh yes, there is a commercial aspect to this enzyme. Abbott Labs has a series of patents on the desaturase genes and uses. And of course, the use of this gene would be included in the production of infant formula besides nutritional supplements, other foods, etc. Desaturases are considered critical in the production of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The Abbott patents are about using recombinant methods to produce these enzymes. (patent # 7241619, inventor Mukerji et al.)

DuPont de Nemours owns a patent that would creat GLA for placement in various foods and yes, infant formula. This patent states that formation of long chain PUFAs are rate limited by delta-6 desaturation (my understanding is that FADS2 is equivalent to delta-6 desaturase). "Many physiological conditions suach as aging, stress, diabetes, eczema, and some infections depress the delta-6 desaturation step." and "GLA is readily catabolized from the oxidation and rapid cell division associated with certain disorders, e.g.,cancer or inflammation." [patent application 200702378776 called "Production of Very Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Oilseed Plants," invented by Kinney et al.

This is speculation. But maybe the study that shows an increase in IQ for 90% of breastfed infants by the FADS2 gene is also showing the "environmental" damage done by mixed feeding to those whose IQ was not increased. We do know that genetic integrity maybe modified by environment--for example radiation's damaging effect on genes. We know from several patents that infant formula causes inflammatory health effects in the body. It would seem possible that enzymes/the genes might be damaged by mixed feeding. An infant might have the normal gene at birth but the initiation of an artificial food in the newborn period might damage that normal gene. Speculation, I know. But let me conclude this post with an interesting patent application called. "Method of improving learning & memory in mammals." The inventor is Robert J. McMahon and the application number is 2006247153 dated 2005. No assignee but McMahon is a senior principle researcher for Mead Johnson. This patent states:

"Among the recongized benefits of breastfeeding is optimal mental development." and "Specific components unique to human milk have the potential to support rapid brain growth."

The component that is of interest to this patent is from the sialic acid family, part of the oligosaccharides called N-acetylneuramic acid (NANA)---a component of human milk.

If genes are responsible for our intellgience, then the infant formula companies are not responsible for lowered IQs of babies fed their products. Who will question some of this thinking? Breastfeeding advocates celebrate these kind of headlines in the media but I can only shake my head and think about how easily people can be mislead.

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