My swooning over Venter on the cover of the latest edition of SEED was rudely interrupted by Larry Moran. Evidently he really does get SEED ‘for the articles’. heh.
Yeah, um, this SEED article… this article is not helpful. For you, or me, or the scientific literacy we are fighting for.
If someone held a gun to my head and screamed “DEFINE EPIGENETICS!!!!”, this is what I would say:
Histone and DNA modifications that alter chromatin structure–> gene expression. Some people also include siRNA.
I think that is kinda an idiomatic definition of ‘epigenetics’, at least in my scientific circles. For instance, if someone published a paper vaguely titled ‘Herpes Simplex Virus-1 induces epigenetic modifications upon infection’, I would guess that their paper is about some histone acetylation or DNA methylation, and a subsequent change in gene expression, or something like that.
I would not give the scientifically curious gunman this response:
Epigenetics is a term that includes all the processes underlying developmental flexibility and stability, and epigenetic inheritance is part of this. Epigenetic inheritance is the transmission of developmental variations that have nothing to do with changes in the DNA base sequences. In its broad sense, it covers the transmission of any differences that do not depend on gene differences, so it encompasses the cultural inheritance of different religious beliefs in humans and song dialects in birds. It even includes the developmental legacies that a young mammal may receive from its mother through her placenta or milk–transmitted antibodies, for example, or chemical traces that tell the youngsters what the mother has been eating and, therefore, what they should eat.
What the hell? Antibodies in a mothers breast milk are epigenetics now? A baby knows what it should eat because of epigenetics?? Songs birds singing is epigenetics?
Look, Ive started to notice a pattern in science.
There are some people who are convinced that they are leading a revolution. Paradigm shifters, if you will. In reality, these people are just kinda… kooky…
There is another group of people. Theyre just doing their science thing, stumble upon something cool, fight (with science) to move the scientific community. They dont realize they are leading a revolution, they just do. These people win Nobels.
As someone who just dabbles in epigenetic research as a ‘hobby’, I am not pleased with this SEED article. Dr. Jablonka… the tone of her article… the content of her article… makes me wince. It puts her in ‘category 1′.
I and several other biologists believe the MS [modern evolutionary synthesis] is in need of serious revision. Growing evidence indicated that there is more to heredity than DNA, that heritable non-DNA variations can take place during development, sometimes in response to an organisms environment. The notion of soft inheritance is returning to reputable scientific inquiry. Moreover, there seem to be cellular mechanisms activated during periods of extreme stress that trigger bursts of genetic and non-genetic heritable variations, inducing rapid evolutionary change. These realizations promise to profoundly alter our view of evolutionary dynamics.
… Doesnt that sound familiar?
… Doesnt that sound like the comments we hear from… other… groups?