A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Failing Epigenetics 101

November 19, 2011

Is it possible that a senior scientist at NIH, a former White House advisor, could be clueless about epigenetics (the study of how changes in the expression of genes can occur without changes in the underlying DNA)? Seems so. We're talking about Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at NIH. His brother Rahm Emanuel is the mayor of Chicago and the former chief of staff to President Obama.

Earlier this month, Franz Adlkofer gave an invited lecture at Harvard Law School on how institutional corruption stands in the way of research on the effects of cell phone radiation. (A video of his lecture was posted online yesterday.)

In the Q&A session that followed, an unseen member of the audience stated that she had been at NIH last spring when she and her coworkers received an e-mail from Ezekiel Emanuel "bashing" the news —presumably— that IARC had found that RF/microwaves are a possible human carcinogen because it "would require a really deep radical alteration of our views in basic physics." In other words, Emanuel was espousing the opinion that cell phones cannot lead to cancer because microwaves cannot break human DNA. Emanuel appears to have been reading too much of the unscientific musings doled out each week by Robert Park. This is nothing new for Emanuel. In 2008, he said essentially the same thing about cell phones and DNA breaks in The New Republic. It also means that Emanuel has had the last three years to take Epigenetics 101 and still has an incomplete.

Happily, there are people who have done their homework and who are making sense. Richard Stein, a postdoc in molecular biology at Princeton, is one of them. In a just published essay in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Stein writes: "For a long time, it was assumed that chemicals are able to cause cancer only by mutating the DNA. However, a growing body of scientific evidence reveals that this 'carcinogenesis equals mutagenesis' paradigm is not accurate." (This applies equally to radiation  as well as chemicals.) Another is Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science writer and blogger, who recently posted a piece, "The Epigenetics of Cancer," which concludes: "cancer is about far more than just mutations." (See also her earlier piece: "Cell Phones, Cancer, and Scientific Oversimplification.") Want to know more about epigenetics? Check out this paper in Nature.