Use epigenetics to place a long-lasting curse on your enemy's familyS

There was once a time when witches could place a curse not only on their enemy, but on their enemy's sons and daughters, stretching on into eternity. Then came the era of science, when what happened to people was a combination of chance, determination, and genetics, and no family curses could touch the young. But now, thanks to epigenetics, we can again blight the accursed seed of our foes. Find out how!

Genetics brought order to the nebulous field of biology. Every physical aspect of a person was summarized and guided by a simple code embedded in every cell of the body. If enough information could be gathered about that code, it was hoped that almost anything could be done, and anything could be known. Epigenetics muddied the waters. The same DNA could be twisted, adjusted, and moved to express itself in different ways even through the same genes. What's more, these adjustments can be inherited, passed down through the generations to have profound effects on people's lives.

Scientists, being the altruistic souls they are, have used the knowledge gained in epigenetics to try to raise awareness about good health habits and to better understand diseases. We use it in a more practical way; to smite our enemies. Follow these simple tips, and ensure the suffering of your opponent's family for generations.

Force-feeding your enemy can make his children die young

Obviously, when you are burdening the line of your foe with unspeakable heartache for hundreds of years, you are going to have to plan ahead. Some random unpleasant act won't just work in your favor automatically. If, for example, you want all your (male) enemy's precious sons and grandsons to die tragically young, you will have to consider the conditions of their lives. If they're experiencing temporary hardship, it might be best to kill them with kindness. Get them somewhere, preferably during their teen years, and stuff them full of the richest, sweetest, and most fattening food you can find. Go without yourself to make sure they are gluttonous. One study in Sweden showed that for one group of men in the mid-to-late 1800s, a season of over-eating caused a rise in heart disease and diabetes that shortened the lives of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sometimes their lives were only shorter by six years, but researchers, after adjusting for the various other conditions they were subjected to, think the epigenetics might have shaved decades off their lives.

If you want to see their daughters cut down in the prime of their lives, on the other hand, its best to starve their women. Women who occasionally over-indulged in food produced healthier daughters and grand-daughters, less prone to diabetes and heart disease. If you have the means, a short kidnapping - ideally during pregnancy - is best. If you don't, it's you'll have to make do with inviting them over for a ridiculously low-calorie meal and keeping them there, possibly talking about how great supermodels look and how fast actresses shed their babyweight, until the restaurants and shops close. Send them home hungry and gloat over the suffering of their future grandchildren.

In short: feed a man, starve a woman.

Poison that keeps poisoning through the generations

Sometimes you need to use a little poison to take out someone quick. In this case, though, you want to make them suffer forever, so you have to be subtle. That's why we're going to look into a sneaky epigenetic trait caused by something called methylation. Methylation happens when a methyl group - a carbon atom stuck to some hydrogen atoms - settles itself on a gene. The addition of this group can turn the gene off and on, letting it express itself to different degrees. Witholding or adding methyl groups can play hell with a gene's expression.

Sometimes methyl groups are absolutely necessary. Pregnant mice, fed a diet high in methyl-donors like folic acid (which is found in wheat, beans and spinach, among other foods), gave birth to babies with a higher rate of asthma, inflammation, and allergies. Their immune systems seemed compromised. The diets with lower amounts of methyl-donors produced healthy offspring.

Then again, there are more direct poisons. Fruit flies develop eye problems for thirteen generations after being exposed to a drug called 'geldanamycin.' (Fruit flies share many genetic traits with humans.) And then there's the age-old bedeviler of mankind: the bacteria. Roundworms that eat certain kinds of bacteria switch off growth genes and develop a stunted appearance for forty generations. Forty generations can affect a human lineage for over a thousand years. That'll make people steer clear of you.

Create a stressful life for your nemesis, and destroy her children's short-term memories

Kidnapping, poison, and replacing pre-natal vitamins with tic tacs are all possible ways to ruin someone's family, but they have a high potential of ruining yours as well. Between jail for you and attorney's fees for your loved ones, you might end up coming out worse than the people you're cursing. It's illegal to do all the things above, but it's perfectly legal to make someone miserable through sheer force of your personality.

A group of mice with memory impairment were raised in an atmosphere of challenge, attention, and fun, with plenty of toys and friendly humans to play with them. Their memory and cognitive function improved. As did the cognitive function of their offspring, no matter how they were raised. If you can build people up, you can also break them down. Take all stimulus away, break their spirits, and bore them silly. Drone on and on, telling them stories that go nowhere. This is stuff that has no legal repercussions, and can be quite fun for you, since you can make a game of seeing how dull you can be before you cross over into parody.

If they won't sit still for that, just make their lives miserable. Although epigenetic changes are most reliably seen in response to physical stimuli, any kind of stress can cause epigenetic problems. Be that person that stares too long and stands too close. Do deliberately irritating things, just to see how far you can push them before they say anything. Make every interaction with you into a long, involved, and stress-inducing process. Every little bit helps drive up their worry and cause their offspring to have high stress, high blood pressure, short memories, and all kinds of miseries that they can then pass on to their offspring.

You can probably start by telling them that you're placing a long-lasting curse on their families. That'll stress them out.

Via Time, PBS, and The Economist.