Bioethics Blogs

Lamarckian sh*t? Why epigenetics is not eugenics

An argument could be made that communicating scientific advances to the public has never been more important. As the NIH budget stagnated, and then was cut by Sequestration, many of us have realized what a poor job we have been doing convincing the public of the importance of basic science research. Neuroscience itself has been under more scrutiny recently. As Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote in a review of three new books bashing brain research, “Neuroscience can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones.” If that is the way that the public sees it, then clearly we are losing something in translation. Recently there has been a push to reverse this trend and reaffirm biomedical research as a source of inspiration and hope for the public. The actor and author Alan Alda, who has long held a passion for science, has made it a personal mission to improve communication about science because “How are scientists going to get money from policy makers, if our leaders and legislators can’t understand what they do?”1

Late last year, Brian Dias, a postdoctoral fellow in Kerry Ressler’s laboratory at Emory, found out just how difficult communicating his work to the public can be. Dias and Ressler had been working on testing whether olfactory fear conditioning would transmit a sensitivity to the conditioned odor across generations. That is, using a mouse model they were exploring whether an experience in your lifetime could affect your children or grandchildren’s response to their environment. They studied the olfactory system because it is extraordinarily well-mapped (thanks in large part to work that Dr.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.