Nature Vs. Nurture In Epigenetic Research

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The “new genetics” research in molecular biology, as this month’s invited Presidential Column by Frances Champagne illustrates, has important implications for psychological science (so important, in fact, that it will be the topic for the Presidential Symposium at our upcoming annual APS convention this May in San Francisco). Professor Champagne’s analysis shows how recent findings in epigenetics speak to basic and enduring questions not just within psychology, but in virtually all discussions about human character and individual differences, from philosophical symposia to dinner conversations. How much is nature? How much is nurture? Champagne takes us elegantly and at high speed from that old question toward a new understanding of the “gene…show more content…
The classic approach to calculating heritability involves the comparison of the stability of a trait in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, with an increase in MZ concordance in contrast to DZ twins indicating increased heritability. But our new appreciation of the science of epigenetics has something very important to offer the interpretation of similarity or differences in MZ and DZ twins. Recent evidence suggests that some aspects of the epigenetic characteristics of a cell are heritable. In our library analogy, we can think of an inheritance of the rows upon rows of books, but also of the shelves, furniture, and meticulous ordering of those books that leave some volumes readily accessible and others hidden in obscurity. Our MZ twins share the same library, whereas our DZ twins may have different libraries, containing a few different books but also potentially having a completely different architecture. Importantly, the shelves, furniture, and layout of a library can be changed dynamically. Despite having the same books, a library can undergo very dramatic changes. At a molecular level, those changes to the “epigenetic” characteristics of a cell can be induced by the environment and
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