Dr. Adrian Bird discusses the dissolving barrier between genetics and epigenetics and why he’s cautious about linking epigenetics in heredity.
Dissolving the Layers in Genetics and Epigenetics
I think what’s most exciting about the field at the moment is that a field called epigenetics is no longer really outside of biology trying to get in. It’s very much in the heart of biology. And the interaction between epigenetics– which is rather a vague word about who’s meaning people fight constantly– and genetics, which is much better defined, is getting clearer. It’s not getting necessarily simpler, but it’s getting clearer.
And I think that to me is what I find interesting. And in our own work, for example, we find that a short DNA sequence CG can influence chromatin structure directly. So that’s, in a sense, epigenetics, because a chromatin structure is epigenetics. But actually it’s also genetics because CG is just the sequence that you inherit. So the way in which genetics and epigenetics interact, I think, is dissolving the distinctiveness of epigenetics. And I think that’s a good thing.
“So the way in which genetics and epigenetics interact, I think, is dissolving the distinctiveness of epigenetics. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Heritability in Epigenetics?
There are some peculiar features of epigenetics, such as heritability ability across generations. And my feeling is those are really at the borderline of what we know about. And so I would say that the things I would most like to see clarified are whether or not there really are epigenetic effects that go between generations. And because this is something that’s talked about an awful lot there is the view that the environment influences our epigenome. And I have a skeptical stance on that. Not because I will never believe it no matter what anybody says, but just because I feel there is a great tendency to want it to be true. And I much prefer to see some hard data on that. So that’s my aspiration.