(September 18, 2009)
Symposium Revolution in Evolution
Genetic inheritance is at the heart of evolutionary thinking. Traits are inherited via their genes, and genetic variation allows populations to adapt to changing environments. However, heritable variation is not only based on DNA sequence differences. Superimposed on the DNA code is an epigenetic code that controls which genes are active and which are not, and part of this epigenetic code can be stably inherited as well. Thus, via epigenetic mechanisms parents may not only transmit their genes to offspring but also their genes’ activity status, potentially resulting in heritable trait differences in the absence of DNA sequence variation. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that the epigenetic code can be modified by environmental stress. From an ecological and evolutionary perspective, this raises challenging questions. Does epigenetic inheritance provide a way to quickly generate heritable variation during times of stress? Does it allow parents to prepare offspring to deal with prevailing environmental stresses? This has a distinct Lamarckian flavour, but how relevant is epigenetic inheritance for adaptation and evolution?
In this symposium, we bring together international experts to explore the role/relevance of epigenetics in ecology and evolution and to provide a perspective on its future looking at the issue from a plant- and animal ecology, molecular biology, evolutionary biology or medical science perspective.