Epigenetics and inheritance of acquired characters - Lamarck's legacy and its relationship to modern advances in evolutionary biology



The French Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) is best remembered nowadays for his claim that physical characteristics an animal acquires during his life are passed on to its offspring, and that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is a main force driving the transformation of species. Lamarck's ideas have often been met with scepticism, but recent developments in molecular genetics, such as epigenetics, have inspired a re-evaluation of his legacy.
In this project, we explore what modern biology can, or cannot, learn from Lamarck, and ask how modern-day Lamarckism compares to the original ideas proposed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Lamarck. So far, we have been looking at (1) the historical development of the notion of epigenesis, (2) the contemporary debates on the concept of epigenetics, and (3) Lamarck's account in the 1809 Philosophie Zoologique of the transformation of species over time and the inheritance of environmentally induced changes. A manuscript provideing a systematic comparison of Lamarckian inheritance of acquired traits on the one hand and inheritance of epigenetic states on the other is currently in preparation. An experiment on plasticity in Drosophilia, testing Lamarckian hypotheses regarding organisims' ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, is ongoing.
Effectieve start/einddatum01/10/201901/01/2024