Beyond Genetics

Association for the Teaching of Psychology review of our new film by Deb Gajic

How epigenetics is changing our understanding of the Nature / Nurture debate

For those of you that attended Dr. Taylor’s workshop or Dr. Guy Sutton’s keynote lecture during the ATP Annual Conference at the University of Sussex, the topic of epigenetics will be very familiar to you. This 23 minute film summarises the main points and arguments in a very concise and accessible manner for your students. It will be invaluable when teaching the nature/nurture debate or biological psychology in general. We’ve long known that behaviour is a product of nature and nurture. Now epigenetics explains how this happens – the nurture in our nature. Being able to write about epigenetics will certainly give your student’s evaluation the edge.

With expert input from Dr. Nessa Carey, author of ‘The Epigenetic Revolution’ and our own Dr. Guy Sutton, the DVD begins with a basic review of genetic processes and discusses the Human Genome Project. The Human Genome Project has given us more questions than answers, we now realise that the genetic code of an individual is only the starting point, it does not define life.

Epigenetics simply means ‘above genetics’. Probably best summed up by this quote from the film: ‘Epigenetics is the study of biological processes that change gene expression – the phenotype – without changing the underlying DNA sequence – the genotype’.

The film goes on to explain the biological mechanics of epigenetics, basically the process of turning on or turning off gene expression. Two processes are discussed; DNA methylation and histone modification. Epigenetics challenges the premise of Darwinian evolution. But the film does more than explain the principles of epigenetics, it also illustrates it with some famous and accessible case studies that show, for example, how parental bad habits e.g. unhealthy eating, drinking, drugs etc., can cause epigenetic changes in offspring. Although, the opposite is also true; good habits can also influence epigenetics changes in offspring too.

So where will epigenetics lead us in the future? Although, research is at a relatively early stage it does seem possible that drugs could be produced to influence epigenetic changes, with the potential to cure diseases such as cancer. DNA is not destiny: epigenetics shows how nurture can influence nature. I’m sure you and your students will enjoy this excellent film as much as I did and flnd it both interesting and helpful in getting to know this fascinating new area of research.

Available now On-Demand

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