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Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance and social responsibility: perspectives from the social sciences

journal contribution
posted on 2018-04-01, 00:00 authored by Maurizio MeloniMaurizio Meloni, Ruth Müller
Research in environmental epigenetics explores how environmental exposures and life experiences such as food, toxins, stress or trauma can shape trajectories of human health and well-being in complex ways. This perspective resonates with social science expertise on the significant health impacts of unequal living conditions and the profound influence of social life on bodies in general. Environmental epigenetics could thus provide an important opportunity for moving beyond long-standing debates about nature versus nurture between the disciplines and think instead in 'biosocial' terms across the disciplines. Yet, beyond enthusiasm for such novel interdisciplinary opportunities, it is crucial to also reflect on the scientific, social and political challenges that a biosocial model of body, health and illness might entail. In this paper, we contribute historical and social science perspectives on the political opportunities and challenges afforded by a biosocial conception of the body. We will specifically focus on what it means if biosocial plasticity is not only perceived to characterize the life of individuals but also as possibly giving rise to semi-stable traits that can be passed on to future generations. That is, we will consider the historical, social and political valences of the scientific proposition of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. The key question that animates this article is if and how the notion of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance creates new forms of responsibilities both in science and in society. We propose that, ultimately, interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration is essential for responsible approaches to transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in science and society.



Environmental epigenetics





Article number



1 - 10


Oxford University Press


Oxford, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, The Authors