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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Dec;981:82-96.

The changing concept of epigenetics.

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Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


We discuss the changing use of epigenetics, a term coined by Conrad Waddington in the 1940s, and how the epigenetic approach to development differs from the genetic approach. Originally, epigenetics referred to the study of the way genes and their products bring the phenotype into being. Today, it is primarily concerned with the mechanisms through which cells become committed to a particular form or function and through which that functional or structural state is then transmitted in cell lineages. We argue that modern epigenetics is important not only because it has practical significance for medicine, agriculture, and species conservation, but also because it has implications for the way in which we should view heredity and evolution. In particular, recognizing that there are epigenetic inheritance systems through which non-DNA variations can be transmitted in cell and organismal lineages broadens the concept of heredity and challenges the widely accepted gene-centered neo-Darwinian version of Darwinism.

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