"Epigenetics is 76 years old, so why are you just now hearing about it?"
Friday, October 5, 2018 - 3:35pm
Erik Peterson
Department of History
University of Alabama

From the perspective of biologists working in the interwar period, we were on the threshold of a comprehensive theory combining inheritance and development. By the early 1940s, there was even a name for the subfield that would outline the integration: “epigenetics.” But, decades later, the English biologist who coined that term, C. H. Waddington, despaired that no such conjunction had happened. If anything, the field of biology collectively seemed less interested in integrating development and inheritance in the 1970s than it had fifty years earlier. In this essay, I trace the reasons for optimism about epigenetics in the first half of the twentieth century and why it seemed to disappear, only to be “discovered” in the present century.