Dr Paula Suárez-López, a scientist with a PhD in Biological Sciences, who has made a career change to the human rights field and graduated with an MA in Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the Essex Law School, has published an article in the Torture Journal on ‘The potential of epigenetic methods to provide evidence of torture’.
Epigenetic methods are state-of-the-art scientific methods that reveal features of genetic material (DNA), named epigenetic marks, which change in response to environmental factors, without affecting the genetic information carried by DNA. Epigenetic changes, however, affect gene activity, making genes more active or less active.
This paper reviews scientific evidence indicating that traumatic experiences are associated with changes in epigenetic marks and argues that, given that torture is an extremely traumatic event, it is likely to be associated with epigenetic changes as well. The article contends that it is worth testing whether epigenetic methods can be used to provide evidence consistent with torture because, if this potential were realised, it would contribute to preventing, documenting and prosecuting torture, and bringing justice and reparations to torture survivors. Perhaps it could even help to refine the definition of torture. The paper also discusses the importance of taking into account the limitations and ethical implications of epigenetic methods.