Epigenetics: The origins and evolution of a fashionable topic

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The term “epigenetics” was introduced in 1942 by embryologist Conrad Waddington, who, relating it to the 17th century concept of “epigenesis”, defined it as the complex of developmental processes between the genotype and phenotype. While in the years that followed, these processes – in particular gene regulation – were tackled, not in the frame of epigenetics but of genetics, research labelled “epigenetics” rose strongly only in the 21st century. Then it consisted of research on chromatin modifications, i.e. chemical modifications of DNA or histone proteins around DNA that do not change the base sequence. This rise was accompanied by far-reaching claims, such as that epigenetics provides a mechanism for “Lamarckian” inheritance. This article highlights the origin of epigenetics, the major phases of epigenetic research, and the changes in the meaning of the term. It also calls into question some of the far-reaching claims that have accompanied the recent rise of epigenetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-254
Number of pages6
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Chromatin
  • Epigenetics
  • Neo-Lamarckism
  • Neo-Lysenkoism
  • Transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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