Crossovers Between Epigenesis and Epigenetics. A Multicenter Approach to the History of Epigenetics (1901-1975)

Rossella Costa, Giulia Frezza

Abstract


The origin of epigenetics has been traditionally traced back to Conrad Hal Waddingtons foundational work in 1940s. The aim of the present paper is to reveal a hidden history of epigenetics, by means of a multicenter approach. Our analysis shows that genetics and embryology in early XX century far from being non-communicating vessels shared similar questions, as epitomized by Thomas Hunt Morgans works. Such questions were rooted in the theory of epigenesis and set the scene for the development of epigenetics. Since the 1950s, the contribution of key scientists (Mary Lyon and Eduardo Scarano), as well as the discussions at the international conference of Gif-sur-Yvette (1957) paved the way for three fundamental shifts of focus: 1. From the whole embryo to the gene; 2. From the gene to the complex extranuclear processes of development; 3. From cytoplasmic inheritance to the epigenetics mechanisms.


Key words: Epigenesis - Epigenetics - T.H. Morgan - E. Scarano - Methylation


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