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Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 65–72 | Cite as

Expanding the Temporal Dimensions of Developmental Biology: The Role of Environmental Agents in Establishing Adult-Onset Phenotypes

  • Scott F. GilbertEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

Developmental biology is expanding into several new areas. One new area of study concerns the production of adult-onset phenotypes by exposure of the fetus or neonate to environmental agents. These agents include maternal nutrients, developmental modulators (endocrine disruptors), and maternal care. In all three cases, a major mechanism for the generation of the altered phenotype is chromatin modification. Nutrient conditions, developmental modulators, and even maternal care appear to alter DNA methylation and other associated changes in chromatin that regulate gene expression. This brings a new, under-appreciated, dimension of gene regulation into developmental biology, and it also demonstrates the poverty of the nature versus nurture framework for discussing phenotype production. Moreover, while such epigenetic mechanisms undermine genetic determinism, they add a layer of probabilistic biological causality for the maintenance of social inequalities.

Keywords

Behavior Development Developmental origins of adult disease Environmental causation Epigenetic Nature–nurture Nutrition Plasticity 

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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySwarthmore CollegeSwarthmoreUSA
  2. 2.Biotechnology InstituteUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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