Epigenetics traces DNA
Home / Braincamps / Health and biotech / Epigenetics: how our experiences leave their imprint on our DNA
π Health and biotech

Epigenetics: how our experiences leave their imprint on our DNA

3 episodes
  • 1
    Can epigenetics make the link between experience and heredity?
  • 2
    Could pollution leave its trace on our DNA?
  • 3
    Is our social environment transmitted via DNA to our descendants?
Épisode 1/3
Agnès Vernet, Science journalist
On January 27th, 2022
4 mins reading time
Jonathan Weitzman
Jonathan Weitzman
Professor of Genetics at Université de Paris

Key takeaways

  • Conrad Waddington first proposed the term epigenetics in 1942 to describe the relationship between the sequence of genes and the way they are expressed. 
  • There are two main molecular processes in epigenetics: marks, which are chemical changes in certain atomic units of DNA, and DNA organisation. 
  • Histones, proteins associated with DNA, allow the DNA molecule to be compacted 10,000 times. 
  • Stress, exposure to toxins or diet can impact on the epigenetic marks of the offspring. 
  • Epigenetic logic shows that education and behavioural changes can impact on the future of individuals.
Épisode 2/3
Agnès Vernet, Science journalist
On January 27th, 2022
3 mins reading time
Xavier Coumoul
Xavier Coumoul
Lecturer in Metabolic biochemistry, cell signalling and toxicology at Université de Paris

Key takeaways

  • Alterations in the structure of DNA – known as “epigenetic” alterations – can be induced by pollutants such as the fungicide vinclozolin.
  • Researchers were able to show that these changes were passed on to their descendants and could be detected in rodents up to four generations later.
  • These results are not directly applicable to humans, however, because the level of exposure to pollutants in humans is low and it is impossible to carry out the same tests in humans.
  • One of the main challenges of this research is to evolve regulatory science to include reliable academic data.
Épisode 3/3
Agnès Vernet, Science journalist
On January 27th, 2022
4 mins reading time
Michel Dubois
Michel Dubois
Director of the Groupe d'Etude des Méthodes de l'Analyse Sociologique de la Sorbonne

Key takeaways

  • Epigenetic marks are traces of a person's experiences on their DNA. They act as biological markers for memory of a person’s environment that can be passed on to their descendants.
  • Much work has already suggested the link between epigenetics and situations of stress or extreme social adversity, for example in children raised in the midst of conflict, such as in the Congo.
  • Although several tribunals – notably in the USA – have used social epigenetics as a basis for putting forward a complaint, these examples remain far removed from research.

Contributors

Agnès Vernet

Agnès Vernet

Science journalist

After her initial studies in molecular biology, Agnès Vernet trained as a science journalist at ESJ-Lille. For the past 14 years, she has been writing for various media, scientific magazines, professional titles and general press, in France and Switzerland. Since 1st February 2021, she is the elected President of the French association of science journalists (AJSPI).