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Epigenetics

The Big Idea for Saturday, February 22, 2014

Epigeneticists look at the different ways a gene is expressed over an individual organism’s lifetime, rather than the way they’re passed along over an epoch. In the epigenetic framework, your genes are seen as predilections, not as destiny: switches that can be turned off or turned on by your environment, without changing the underlying DNA sequence.

For example, some people have a predisposition to get psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder of the skin. But it takes a traumatic physical or emotional event for the disease to actually appear.

In today's lesson, we look at how flowering plants suddenly appeared and became ecologically dominant. How did this happen? We believe that leaves mutated into flowers to perform a new function. So what is the significance of this?

The human genome, like that of plants, is "prepared" for change. That also means that scientists can "persuade" the genome to change. We are not slaves to our biology, and neither are we shaped entirely by our circumstances. Instead, we’re the product of a complex process of interactions between our bodies and environment.

 

Perspectives

  1. 1 Darwin's Flowers: Unraveling an 'Abominable Mystery'
    Big Think Editors Big Think TV
  2. 2 "Epigenetics" Explained
    Duke University
  3. 3 The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin's Gemmule Theory Revisited
    Rob Martienssen In Their Own Words
  4. 4 Daniel Dennett on the Staggering Genius of Charles Darwin
    Daniel Dennett
 

Epigenetics

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