Epigenetics: ambiguities and implications

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 38 (4):1-20 (2016)
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Everyone has heard of ‘epigenetics’, but the term means different things to different researchers. Four important contemporary meanings are outlined in this paper. Epigenetics in its various senses has implications for development, heredity, and evolution, and also for medicine. Concerning development, it cements the vision of a reactive genome strongly coupled to its environment. Concerning heredity, both narrowly epigenetic and broader ‘exogenetic’ systems of inheritance play important roles in the construction of phenotypes. A thoroughly epigenetic model of development and evolution was Waddington’s aim when he introduced the term ‘epigenetics’ in the 1940s, but it has taken the modern development of molecular epigenetics to realize this aim. In the final sections of the paper we briefly outline some further implications of epigenetics for medicine and for the nature/nurture debate.



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Author Profiles

Paul Edmund Griffiths
University of Sydney
Karola Stotz
Last affiliation: Macquarie University