Epigenesis: Definition & Concept Video

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Epigenesis is a change in genetic expression as a result of environmental influences. This lesson will explore epigenetics and will end with a quiz that you can use to test your new found knowledge on the subject.


How do we become who we are? This question lies at the heart of the age-old debate regarding nature versus nurture. Are we simply the products of our nature - our genetic material, or are we more influenced by the environment in which we live?

If genetics were the defining factors in who we become, wouldn't all identical or monozygotic twins, twin siblings who share exactly the same genetic material, be the same in every single way? Anyone who knows identical twins, or who is a twin, realizes that this is a false presumption. While there are often many astounding similarities between identical twins, they're certainly not the same person. They may look slightly different, have differences in personality, patterns of thinking, likes and dislikes, etc. So what causes these variations among people who share the same genetic material? Scientists believe that the answer lies in a process called epigenesis.

Epigenesis is the way a gene changes in the face of environmental influences. In other words, things in the environment can positively or negatively impact the way genetic material is expressed in the development of human beings.


Meet Joe. Let's say that Joe has a strong family history of heart disease. Joe's mother and Joe's father died at fairly young ages as a result of heart disease, as did many of Joe's close relatives. Joe knows the risk factors associated with heart disease and has taken active steps to minimize those risks. Joe exercises nearly every day and eats a healthy diet. Joe monitors his blood pressure and cholesterol levels through regular check ups to make sure that he is within the normal levels. Joe also does yoga three times a week to moderate stress levels. Joe has not developed heart disease even though his genetic makeup made it probable that he would. Scientists would explain this as epigenesis at its finest! Simply stated, Joe's healthy choices created an environment that halted the genetic expression for heart disease that we expected to see in Joe.

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