Epigenetics: Wondrous, Not Revolutionary

Epigenetics is the study of changes to DNA molecules that do not involve mutations or the changing of nucleotides. Currently, epigenetics seemed to have surpassed the related field of developmental biology as staking claim to being the new revolution in evolution. (IDists, you still have a way to go to become a scientific fad. You gotta drop the bullhorn and start doing some science.)

I’m with Jerry Coyne; call me unfashionable, but my response to these fads is “meh.” In fact, Dr. Coyne has done a great job in discussing why these findings make evolutionary biology more wondrous, but don’t disrupt evolutionary biology or the central place of Darwin’s theory of natural selection has in it.

Dr. Coyne places the blame of these fads on science journalists, but I would go further and place additional blame on scientists themselves. It is my opinion, that much of this “Darwin to the doghouse” rhetoric begins with the scientists, specifically ones who have no background in evolutionary biology—say biophysicists or molecular biologists with a mostly biochemistry background. These are the ones who are likely to have just enough knowledge to think they understand evolution, and thus are mistakenly confident to say that they are overturning it. (And I shouldn’t forget the physicists and engineers, who always know better than us “soft” scientists.)

These people exist because many college programs in the biological sciences don’t even require a course in evolutionary biology. (Seriously! Are they afraid that the pre-meds will revolt?) Until that changes, we will still be training too many biologists and physicians whose knowledge about evolution is gathered more from television than the classroom.