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Markers as mediators: A review and synthesis of epigenetics literature

Authors
  • Pinel, Clémence1
  • Prainsack, Barbara2, 3
  • McKevitt, Christopher1
  • 1 King’s College London, School of Population Sciences and Health Services Research, 6th Floor, Addison House, Guy’s Campus, London, SE1 1UL, UK , London (United Kingdom)
  • 2 University of Vienna, Department of Political Science, Vienna, Austria , Vienna (Austria)
  • 3 King’s College London, Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, London, UK , London (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
BioSocieties
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Sep 18, 2017
Volume
13
Issue
1
Pages
276–303
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1057/s41292-017-0068-x
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Epigenetics, the study of the processes that control gene expression without a change in DNA sequence, highlights the importance of environmental factors in gene regulation. This paper maps the terrain of epigenetics and identifies four main research subfields: Gene expression; molecular epigenetics; clinical epigenetics and epigenetic epidemiology. Within and across these fields, we analyse what is conceptualised as environment and demonstrate the variable ways authors understand epigenetics environments. Then, following an analysis of the discursive strategies employed by epigenetics researchers, we demonstrate how authors portray the interactions between genes, epigenetics, and environment as relationships linking the outside (where the environment is located) with the inside (where the genes are located). We argue that authors assign specific roles to each actor: The environment as the active player initiating the relationship, the genes as recipients, and epigenetics as mediators between environment and genes. Framed as mediators, epigenetic markers can be understood as enablers of communication between environment and genome, capable of processing and organising signals so as to regulate the interactions between the actors of epigenetic relationships. This finding complicates the observation by social science scholars that the interactions between the environment and the genes can be understood through the concept of signal.

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