Newsweek: Transgenerational epigenetics is “the new Lamarckism”


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A recent article in Newsweek from science writer Sharon Begley reports on “the new Lamarckism,” citing studies from epigenetics researchers, including Emma Whitelaw. The article seems to be all about transgenerational epigenetics, but rather than ever use the word “epigenetics,” the favored term is “the new Lamarckism.” Link

But evidence for the new Lamarckism is strong enough to say the last word on inheritance and evolution has not been written.

My guess is that Begley was intent on building up controversy in her opening that seemed to be criticizing evolution during Darwin’s big 200/150 year. And in that regard, she piqued the interest of one of the most popular science bloggers, PZ Myers, who criticized the article in a post on his blog–sending tons of traffic to Newsweek.

It’s very cool stuff, but evolutionary biologists are about as shocked by this as they are by the idea that malnourished mothers have underweight babies. That environmental influences can have multi-generational effects, and that developmental programs can cue off of the history of the germ line, is not a new idea, especially among developmental biologists.

One of the problems with calling epigenetics “the new Lamarckism” is that it can have the connotation that the field is going the way of Lamarckism, or that geneticists are unable to account for (or are afraid of acknowledging) these strange phenomena. In truth, geneticists are aware of these phenomena, and are eager to see what mechanism is at play in the inheritance of these traits across generations–whether it be methylation, small RNAs, or a host of other possibilities.

But no one in science is crying over the fact that epigenetics is uncovering more details about how disease is acquired or traits inherited.

Happy New Year!


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I was just reminded that I have been neglecting my duties as a blogger when I read this post from Alex Palazzo at The Daily Transcript. ¬†Ironically, Alex does a great job reflecting why I have been neglecting those duties, concluding, “This is why I’m in science.”

My results had arrived! Before anyone was up, I looked over the list and realized what I had stumbled into. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s obviously the answer. Obvious. I should have gone fishing earlier. Now all that is missing is the last piece of the puzzle. That last factor that must link all the bits together.

This is why I haven’t been blogging. This is why it’s 10:01PM and I’m in the lab. This is why I’ve been totally obsessed with my work.

In short, I have also been chasing some loose ends that have had me completely mesmorized. And transitioning from undergraduate/part-time research work to full-time research work has had its share of challenges, but I feel like I am getting my feet under me and making significant contributions to not only the overall arc of the research but also to the productivity of the other lab members. This makes me very happy.

And with that, happy new year to all of the (loyal) readers!