Epigenetics Genetics Intelligent Design

What if there is no genetics apart from epigenetics?

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For whom would that make a difference? From an online book in progress by Stephen L. Talbott, tentatively titled “Evolution As It Was Meant To Be — And the Living Narratives That Tell Its Story” (Overview), at the Nature Institute:

“Are genes equivalent to destiny?” in a new light. In 2007 a team of researchers at Duke University reported that exposure of pregnant mice to bisphenol A (a chemical that was then used in many common plastics such as baby bottles and dental composites) “is associated [in the offspring], with higher body weight, increased breast and prostate cancer, and altered reproductive function“. The exposure also shifted the coat color of the mice toward yellow — a change again found to be transmitted across generations despite its not being linked to a gene mutation. Moreover, the changes brought on by the chemical were negated when the researchers supplemented the maternal diet with folic acid, a B vitamin (Dolinoy et al. 2007).

And so an epigenome that responds to the environment can respond to healthy as well as unhealthy influences. As another illustration of this: researchers at McGill University in Montreal looked at the consequences of two kinds of maternal behavior in rats. Some mother rats patiently lick and groom their newborns, while others generally neglect their pups. The difference turns out to be reflected in the lives of the offspring: those who are licked grow up (by the usual measures) to be relatively confident and content, whereas the neglected ones show depression-like symptoms and tend to be fearful when placed in new situations.

This difference is correlated with different levels of activity in particular genes in the hippocampus of the rats’ brains. Not that the gene sequences are themselves mutated in the usual sense. Rather, the researchers found that various epigenetic modifications in the hippocampus alter the way the genes work (Weaver et al. 2004). Other investigations have pointed toward similar changes in the brains of human suicide victims who were abused as children (Poulter et al. 2009).

What has perhaps excited the general public most is this application of epigenetic studies to human beings…


Stephen L. Talbott, “All Genetics Is Epigenetics” at Evolution as it Was Meant to Be: A work in progress

Hat tip: Philip Cunningham

See also: Life forms have a story but rocks don’t Talbott: An animal’s end-directed activity may, of course, be very far from what we humans know as conscious aiming at a goal. But all such activity nevertheless displays certain common features distinguishing it from inanimate proceedings

Is today’s biology missing a Big Idea? Talbott: Every organism is an entity in which certain ideas and intentions are manifest — observably expressed and realized. We have to be willing to say, as everyone does say, “This cell is preparing to divide.” We would never say (as I mentioned earlier), “This planet is preparing to make another circuit of the sun.”

There’s a gene for that… or is there?

and

Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

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8 Replies to “What if there is no genetics apart from epigenetics?

  1. 1
    Brother Brian says:

    I really don’t understand ID’s obsession with epigenetics. We have known for well over half a century that the phenotype is the outcome of the interaction between the genome and the environment. The gender of turtles is dictated by the temperature of incubation. All clown fish are born (hatched) as males but some later become female, even though their genome doesn’t change. All that has really changed over the last few decades is that we are obtaining a better understanding of how this process works.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    Brother Brian:

    I really don’t understand ID’s obsession with epigenetics.

    What obsession?

    We have known for well over half a century that the phenotype is the outcome of the interaction between the genome and the environment.

    Except we do NOT know what determines the final form.

    The gender of turtles is dictated by the temperature of incubation.

    But what makes a turtle a turtle?

    And none of this was predicted by any theory of evolution.

  3. 3
    EDTA says:

    It’s fascinating to some of us because until very recently, standard evolutionary theory, as expounded in our textbooks, has made no mention of epigenetics. None of the defenses of evolution that I have read over the years have ever mentioned it. I don’t see epigenetics being fully baked into the picture until the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.

  4. 4
    Brother Brian says:

    EDTA

    It’s fascinating to some of us because until very recently, standard evolutionary theory, as expounded in our textbooks, has made no mention of epigenetics.

    Sorry, but this is simply not true. The texts may not have referred to it as “epigenetics” but they certainly went in to great detail that the phenotype was the result of environment interacting with the genome. I was taught this way back in the 70s.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    Brother Brian:

    The texts may not have referred to it as “epigenetics” but they certainly went in to great detail that the phenotype was the result of environment interacting with the genome.

    Except for the fact that it isn’t. The fact is no one knows what determines the phenotype. What you were taught is wrong- well no one has ever demonstrated such a thing and there is evidence against it. Not that you care…

  6. 6
    EDTA says:

    If they weren’t calling it “epigenetics”, then at the very least, they had to know something about it other than its visible effects, in order for it to have been a separately identifiable part of the theory. I don’t see it as a clear part of the Modern Synthesis. I think people are reading between the lines of their textbooks. But some juicy quotes from a 1970 textbook would go a long way here. Anybody got any?

  7. 7
    ET says:

    EDTA- epigenetics has evolved. It was once used just to describe cellular differentiation- why different types of cells can still have the same genome. The stuff of developmental biology. Now it is more about heritable acquired modifications that do not alter the DNA sequence.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    EDTA – I don’t have any old textbooks to hand, but concepts like phenotypic plasticity, permanent environmental effects, reaction norms and maternal effects are all relevant (in the sense that epigenetics can be one way they can occur). The reason we talk about epigenetics now is that we now know so much more about it and how to study it: before we could see the effect, but it was nearly impossible to study the causes of these effects at the molecular level.

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