Epigenetics, Evolution, and Us

The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 3 (3):489-500 (2003)
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This essay moves along broad lines from molecular biology to evolutionary biology and ecology to theology. Its objectives are to: 1) present some recent scientific findings in the emerging field of epigenetics that indicate that it is “the genome in context,” not genes per se, that are important in biological development and evolution; 2) show that this weakens the gene-centric neo-Darwinist explanation of evolution which, in fact, shares a certain preformationist orientation with intelligent design theory; 3) argue that the evidence against a gene-centric view in no way negates Darwin’s central idea of “descent with modification”; 4) argue that an embrace of the evolutionary story, with all of its contingency and apparent lack of directionality, is not only consistent with Christianity, but actually resonates with the notion of the self-emptying love of God in Jesus Christ; and finally 5) suggest that we are called through an ecological imperative to embrace our evolutionary story, to listen to our “genetic coding,” and to reclaim our grounding as a species in the natural world. Corrigendum (published in later issue of journal): There was an error in the paragraph describing the mode of action of the small temporally-expressed RNAs (stRNAs) lin-4 and let-7 from Caenorhabditis elegans. Instead of reading "These two stRNAs act by binding to the tails of their target messenger RNAs (mRNAs); this results in destruction of the target and an overall drop in the level of production of protein from agouti mRNA" [note that agouti mRNA is not a target of these stRNAs], the sentence should have read, "These two stRNAs act by binding to the tails of target messenger RNAs (mRNAs); this leads to inhibition of translation of the mRNAs into protein and a consequent drop in the levels of the corresponding target protein."

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W. Malcolm Byrnes
Howard University


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