Autumn 1994 (2.3)
Measuring the Effect of Pollution With Palm Prints
Asymmetrical Dermatoglyphics and the Environment
by Mark Hopkins
She's a scientist-a geneticist-concerned about the harmful effects the environment is having on human genes; and she's found a gentle, effective way to work with infants, the physically and mentally handicapped, the elderly, and the schizophrenic while doing it. When she gathers data, it's so simple, it almost looks like play as she gently presses each palm-both right and left-which has been sponged with black ink, against a piece of paper. Voila! Two palm prints! And that's it, except for a little washing up to do.
Science has known for quite some time that pollution damages genes which, in turn, brings disease and death to mankind and other biological life. But how can they determine whether genes have been damaged if they don't want to wait around for genetic diseases, spontaneous abortions, and congenital malformations to appear?
Cheap, Simple and Effective
Ulduz Hashimova at Azerbaijan Academy of Science has found a way-she's reading palms. Mind you, she's not a psychic. The methodology apart from being astonishingly simple, has a quantitative basis, is easily replicated and, very importantly, is very cheap. The only equipment necessary for both testing and analysis is black ink, sponge, paper, pencil, ruler and compass. A calculator would help ease mathematical calculations.
Typically, geneticist researchers take blood samples. But Hashimova's sampling requires no hypodermic needles in an age when everyone is fearful of AIDS, nor the accompanying paraphernalia of test tubes, refrigeration and chemical reagents. It's a methodology that every Research Institute strapped for financial resources could wish for, especially at a time when developing countries like Azerbaijan are experiencing economic crisis and most scientists are forced to take second jobs just to survive. Such research like Hashimova's enables science to move on despite economic restraints that slam most doors shut.
Gene Mutation Shows in Palms
Hashimova's study is designed to determine genetic damage based on what is called "fluctuating asymmetry" which is the notion that genes in their optimal state are nearly symmetrical and, conversely, asymmetry will be illustrated in various bilateral parts of humans such as eyes, teeth, hands, etc. when genes have been damaged.
She built her work on experiments carried out by colleagues, Urkhan Alekberov, A.O. Mammadova and R.R. Hajiyev showing the effects of genotoxic agents upon the genetic system of plants as revealed in the simultaneous increase in the level of mutations and in fluctuating asymmetry.
The analysis includes identifying the five swirl points on both the right and left palm prints which are found at the base of each finger (point of tri-radius) and then measuring the angle of the tri-radius and the distance in millimeters between tri-radius and the four remaining points. Calculations are made for each hand and then the differences are found-that's the asymmetry-no two prints are ever identical.
The use of dermatoglyphics is not new. It started with Harold Cummin's work, Fingerprints, Palms and Soles: An Introduction to Dermatoglyphics originally published in 1893 (Revised in 1961).
Hashimova has been working on the problem and gathering prints for the past eight to nine years.
What her research demonstrates for the first time is the negative effects of the environmental pollution on the genes as illustrated in dermatoglyphics. As genes are the base for all living structures and functions, negative effects will harm the hereditary, oncological and metabolic systems but, bottom line, it is genetic damage that triggers all of these types of diseases.
Centenarians: Almost Symmetrical Palms
As a baseline for her studies, Hashimova first studied people of longevity (90 years or older) from a Talysh village close to the Iranian border. There she found the palm prints "very, very symmetrical."
Then she printed children in cotton producing regions in central Azerbaijan who had been exposed to high levels of pesticides. Asymmetry was quite evident. Schizophrenics and diabetics were studied, too, with the same result.
But the most dramatic cases of asymmetry were found in children who lived in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan's highly toxic petro-chemical manufacturing city. There she printed malformed babies, some with six fingers and cleft lips, and some mentally challenged with Down's Syndrome. Sumgayit's prints showed the highest pronounced level of asymmetry.
In man's quest to find the balance between environment, economy and technology, it is very important to identify types of pollution and toxins which may cause gene mutation. This is what Hashimova's work helps to do. Then after the culprits are identified, ways can be found either to eliminate them or, at least, to search for ways to block and protect the genes so damage will not occur. Hashimova's work is an important primary step.
Mark Hopkins is a staff writer. Translation assistance was from Aliya Abassova.
From Azerbaijan International (2.3) Autumn 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.