What do you mean, “Epigenetic”?

Carrie Deans, Keith A. Maggert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

240 Scopus citations


Interest in the field of epigenetics has increased rapidly over the last decade, with the term becoming more identifiable in biomedical research, scientific fields outside of the molecular sciences, such as ecology and physiology, and even mainstream culture. It has become increasingly clear, however, that different investigators ascribe different definitions to the term. Some employ epigenetics to explain changes in gene expression, others use it to refer to transgenerational effects and/or inherited expression states. This disagreement on a clear definition has made communication difficult, synthesis of epigenetic research across fields nearly impossible, and has in many ways biased methodologies and interpretations. This article discusses the history behind the multitude of definitions that have been employed since the conception of epigenetics, analyzes the components of these definitions, and offers solutions for clarifying the field and mitigating the problems that have arisen due to these definitional ambiguities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)887-896
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Epigenetic inheritance
  • Gene expression
  • Maternal effects
  • Transgenerational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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