How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
It’s a complex holiday. St. Patrick was born around 400 AD in Britain. History tells us he was kidnapped, became a shepherd who heard voices from God and had a profound religious conversion which he then shared to convert many Irish to Christianity. No beer, no snakes, and probably no four leaved clovers either. Here we have several of my favorite topics, leaving out the snake bit; genetics God, and beer.
I remember looking through the lawn around the house and then in the valley fields for a 4 leaved clover leaf as a child, when every one of them had 3 lobes. Once my sister found one with 4 leaves. She thought it was magical but I convinced myself it was a mutant, as I never found another one. If it were really a four leaved plant, we’d have had more of them. Magical, mutant, sometimes they are one and the same and maybe this was both. It’s difficult to sort out what is wonderful, like hearing the voice of God, from what is abnormal in a more sinister way, like delusion—which might be inherited.
From scientist’s studies of twins, we know that heritability of alcoholism is high, about 50%. Identical twins share all the same genes compared with fraternal twins who are more like siblings and share half their genes at the start. It’s twice as likely that identical twins both have alcoholism, or both lack it, compared with the same behavior in fraternal twins. Of course, we didn’t need the Human Genome Project to tell us that alcoholism runs in families. However, molecular genetics has helped us understand that it relates partly to our own genes which we inherited, and not only to the family environment we experienced. Genomics confirms alcoholism involves not one but a constellation of many genes acting together, or not, or behaving very badly. One thing is certain, it’s not up to just one gene.
Thinking about St. Patricks Day this morning, I thought I’d love to have the drink. Throughout the day I remembered I probably shouldn’t, for that very reason. I love a Guinness stout, or a pear cider, or even a Belgian strawberry beer, that’s certain. But a note from the a global director at Guinness today said while on any other day we drink 5.5 million pints of the Irish stout, on St. Patrick’s Day we drink 13 million pints. That’s a lot of beer.
I think I’ll skip the drink, have a glass of non-alcoholic apple cider, and say a prayer.
How did you spend St. Patrick’s Day?
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Scientific notes from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa60.htm , and historical notes from National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110316-saint-patricks-day-2011-march-17-facts-ireland-irish-nation/