Congratulations to our Chair, Simon House, for his chapter in the recently published Academic Press / imprint of Elsevier publication - HANDBOOK of EPIGENETICS: (SECTION VII, Evolutionary Epigenetics: CHAPTER 26, Epigenetics in Adaptive Evolution and Development: The interplay between evolving species and epigenetic mechanisms. Simon H. House*, Cambridge, UK)

The subject of epigenetics tends to be a conversation stopper, but simply means ‘changes in gene expression’ – due to switches on the genes. It used to be called ‘environmentally induced modification’, and not considered important, being reversible change – rather than a mutation – it is now the focus of scientific investigation. Though reversible, these changes are inheritable both in cell replication and down multiple generations of the species. Epigenetics is now a red-hot topic in many branches of medicine.

It has long been known that faced with a change in ‘conditions of existence’ (as Charles Darwin termed the environment) that organisms needed to change to cope with the changed surroundings.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had described this ‘need’ well (le besoin) in his book ‘Philosophie Zoologique’ (1809), but was stumped with explaining how such changed characteristics somehow became marked on the ‘germ-plasm’ thus ensuring the change was passed on to the next and further generations, were the environmental change to remain stable. Darwin had run into the same problem and tried explaining it via his theory of pangenesis – which was inspired guesswork considering he published his thoughts 140 years ago.

Now, the relatively new science of epigenetics is explaining this 200-year-old conundrum.

We are privileged as a Society to be allowed by Elsevier to reproduce Simon House’s chapter, which will be serialised in these pages. This chapter, one of 37 in Handbook of Epigenetics is pretty meaty stuff, so be prepared to hang on to your hats.

Handbook of Epigenetics: The New Molecular and Medical Genetics (edited by Trygve O. Tollefsbol of the Department of Biology, the Center for Aging, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the Comprehensive Diabetes Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL 35294, USA) has 37 chapters on virtually every branch of medicine and medical science including genetics, psychology, psychiatry, environmental biology and evolutionary Epigenetics.

It is the Handbook for which generations of scientists, doctors of medicine, philosophers, naturalists and students of evolution have been waiting – for two centuries – since the time of Lamarck’s first publication at the beginning of the 19th century. (A more complete review will follow in our Journal, Nutrition and Health).

Only now are we beginning to understand how our environment, physical, chemical and emotional is effecting change in our bodies and minds, and in those of our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Congratulations are also due to our President Professor Michael Crawford on being appointed Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College.

DM.

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