Epigenetics: ambiguities and implications

Karola Stotz*, Paul Griffiths

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Everyone has heard of ‘epigenetics’, but the term means different things to different researchers. Four important contemporary meanings are outlined in this paper. Epigenetics in its various senses has implications for development, heredity, and evolution, and also for medicine. Concerning development, it cements the vision of a reactive genome strongly coupled to its environment. Concerning heredity, both narrowly epigenetic and broader ‘exogenetic’ systems of inheritance play important roles in the construction of phenotypes. A thoroughly epigenetic model of development and evolution was Waddington’s aim when he introduced the term ‘epigenetics’ in the 1940s, but it has taken the modern development of molecular epigenetics to realize this aim. In the final sections of the paper we briefly outline some further implications of epigenetics for medicine and for the nature/nurture debate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Epigenesis
  • Epigenetic inheritance
  • Epigenetics
  • Exogenetic inheritance
  • Genetic accommodation
  • Genetic assimilation


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