Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension

By Eva Jablonka; Marion J. Lamb | Go to book overview

1
The legacy of Lamarckism

Every thing possible to be
believed is an image of truth.
Blake: Proverbs of Hell

The idea that the inheritance of acquired characters plays an important role in evolution has been the subject of controversy for over a century. Enthusiasm for the idea, which is usually associated with the name of Lamarck, has sometimes led to charlatanism and fraud, while opposition to it has led to 'Lamarckist' being used as a term of abuse. Nowadays, biologists usually regard ideas about the inheritance of acquired characters as nothing more than an interesting part of the history of biology. Lamarckian evolution is rejected on the grounds that there is no evidence for it, no mechanism that can produce it, and no need for it in evolutionary theory. Some people go even further and argue that the inheritance of acquired characters is theoretically impossible--it is incompatible with what is known about genetics and development.

The aim of this book is to show that there are now well recognized mechanisms by which some acquired characters can be transmitted to the next generation, and that such characters have probably played a significant role in evolution. We want to make it clear right at the outset that although we argue that some types of Lamarckian evolution are possible, there is nothing in what we say that should be construed as being anti- Darwinian. 1 We are firm believers in the power and importance of natural selection. What we do maintain, however, is that some new inherited variations are not quite as random as is generally assumed, but arise as a direct, and sometimes directed, response to environmental challenge, and that the effects of such induced variations deserve more recognition in evolutionary theory.

In this chapter we want to look at some of the reasons given for rejecting the idea that acquired characters can be inherited, and show why we think they are wrong. The objections to Lamarckism are based partly on the limited evidence for the inheritance of acquired characters, but also on prejudice and conservatism, and on a view of heredity that is no longer appropriate. During the past fifty years there has been a gradual narrowing of the concept of heredity. Although this was probably important and necessary for the development of genetics as a discipline, it is now a

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Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface to the paperback edition v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Acknowledgements of figure sources xiv
  • 1 - The Legacy of Lamarckism 1
  • Notes 27
  • 2 - Neo-Darwinian Explanations of the Inheritance of Acquired Characters 30
  • Notes 51
  • 3 - Induced Genetic Variations 54
  • Notes 76
  • 4 - Cellular Heredity: Epigenetic Inheritance Systems 79
  • Notes 108
  • 5 - Genomic Imprinting 111
  • Summary 130
  • 6 - The Inheritance of Directed Epigenetic Variations 133
  • Summary 157
  • Notes 158
  • 7 - Interactions Between Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance 160
  • Notes 188
  • 8 - The Role of Epigenetic Inheritance Systems in Adaptive Evolution 191
  • Notes 225
  • 9 - Heredity and the Origin of Species 229
  • Summary 267
  • Notes 269
  • 10 - Multiple Inheritance Systems 272
  • Notes 288
  • Glossary 290
  • References 299
  • Appendix 329
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