Waddington’s epigenetics or the pictorial meetings of development and genetics

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40 (4):61 (2018)
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In 1956, in his Principles of Embryology, Conrad Hal Waddington explained that the word “epigenetics” should be used to translate and update Wilhelm Roux’ German notion of “Entwicklungsmechanik” to qualify the studies focusing on the mechanisms of development. When Waddington mentioned it in 1956, the notion of epigenetics was not yet popular, as it would become from the 1980s. However, Waddington referred first to the notion in the late 1930s. While his late allusion clearly reveals that Waddington readily associated the notion of epigenetics with the developmental process, in the contemporary uses of the notion this developmental connotation seems to have disappeared. The advent and success of molecular biology have probably contributed to focusing biologists’ attention on the “genetic” or the “non-genetic” over the “developmental”. In the present paper, I first examine the links that exist, in Waddington’s work, between the classical notion of epigenesis in embryology and those of epigenetics that Waddington proposed to connect, and even synthesize, data both from embryology and genetics. Second, I show that Waddington’s own view of epigenetics has changed over time and I analyze how these changes appear through his many representations of the relationships between genetic signals and developmental processes.



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Antonine Nicoglou
Université de Tours

Citations of this work

Introduction: sketches of a conceptual history of epigenesis.Antonine Nicoglou & Charles T. Wolfe - 2018 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40 (4):64.
The Environment: An Ambiguous Concept in Waddington's Biology.Laurent Loison - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 91:181-190.

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References found in this work

Ontogeny and Phylogeny.Stephen Jay Gould - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (4):652-653.
Organisers and Genes.C. H. Waddington - 1941 - Philosophy of Science 8 (3):463-463.
Ontogeny and Phylogeny.Stephen J. Gould - 1979 - Science and Society 43 (1):104-106.
The Epigenetic Landscape in the Course of Time: Conrad Hal Waddington’s Methodological Impact on the Life Sciences.Jan Baedke - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):756-773.
Epigenetics: Ambiguities and Implications.Karola Stotz & Paul Griffiths - 2016 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 38 (4).

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