Epigenetics and ethics

April 12, 2013

It is a well established truth that not all of our genes are switched on in all of our cells all of the time. A fundamental role in the control of gene expression is played by transcription factors encoded within the DNA itself. In addition to this, however, there is now increasing recognition of the importance of an additional layer of genetic modification over and above the sequence of A,C,G&T letters in genome.

The epigenetics teaching resources have been developed by Lyndsey Wright as part of the public engagement with science component of her PhD (funded by the BBSRC)

The epigenetics teaching resources have been developed by Lyndsey Wright during the public engagement with science component of her PhD (funded by the BBSRC)

This “epigenetic” regulation can be influenced by environmental factors and hence questions about the ethical significance of epigenetics are emerging. Two different resources for looking at these bioethical dimension of epigenetics have recently been launched.

Firstly, PhD student Lyndsey Wright has taken the lead in the developed a series of resources on epigenetics and ethics which can be used with A-level students and undergraduates.

Four case studies are included on:

The resource, which is part of the wider Virtual Genetics Education Centre, includes teachers’ notes, student worksheets and PowerPoint presentations as well as links to further reading.

The second new resource is a video on the science and ethics of epigenetics.

The video includes consideration of Jesus and his (fictional) twin Joshua

The video includes consideration of Jesus and his (fictional) twin Joshua

This film was made by second year undergraduates at Leicester as an assessed piece of work. The video includes interviews with a number of scientists who are researching aspects of epigenetics, including the role of genetic modification in altering the expression of genes in cancerous cells.


Epigenetics – The ghost in your genes

June 30, 2008

 
Epigenetics – Turning genes on and off  

The BBC Horizon documentary The ghost in your genes, successfully explains a particularly complex field of science. Genetic inheritance has historically been thought of as involving the transmission of DNA from one generation to the next affected by occasional mutations in the DNA itself (00:04:37 – 00:05:50). “Up to now, inheritance is just the genes, the DNA sequence. I suspect that we’re going to be able to demonstrate that inheritance is more than that”, explains Professor Marcus Pembrey from the Institute of Child Health, UCL. A few scientists had hypothesised that the conventional genetic model and mode of inheritance was too simplistic to explain the complexity of human beings. The revelation that the human genome likely contains only about 30,000 genes (00:08:54 – 00:11:33), coupled with increasing experimental evidence, now leads scientists to believe that other factors allow genes to be switched on and off in response to environmental stimuli. The consequences of which may affect subsequent generations.

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