The evolutionary implications of epigenetic inheritance

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The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis (MS) forged in the mid-twentieth century was built on a notion of heredity that excluded soft inheritance, the inheritance of the effects of developmental modifications. However, the discovery of molecular mechanisms that generate random and developmentally induced epigenetic variations is leading to a broadening of the notion of biological heredity that has consequences for ideas about evolution. After presenting some old challenges to the MS that were raised, among others, by Karl Popper, I discuss recent research on epigenetic inheritance, which provides experimental and theoretical support for these challenges. There is now good evidence that epigenetic inheritance is ubiquitous and is involved in adaptive evolution and macroevolution. I argue that the many evolutionary consequences of epigenetic inheritance open up new research areas and require the extension of the evolutionary synthesis beyond the current neo-Darwinian model.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160135
JournalInterface Focus
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2017


  • Adaptive evolution
  • Developmental selection
  • Epigenetic inheritance
  • Karl popper
  • Macroevolution
  • Modern synthesis


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