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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Is Lamarckian evolution relevant to medicine?

Adam E Handel12 and Sreeram V Ramagopalan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Roosevelt Drive, Headington, Oxford, OX3 7BN, UK

2 Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford, The West Wing, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, OX3 9DU, UK

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BMC Medical Genetics 2010, 11:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2350-11-73

Published: 13 May 2010

Abstract

Background

200 years have now passed since Darwin was born and scientists around the world are celebrating this important anniversary of the birth of an evolutionary visionary. However, the theories of his colleague Lamarck are treated with considerably less acclaim. These theories centre on the tendency for complexity to increase in organisms over time and the direct transmission of phenotypic traits from parents to offspring.

Discussion

Lamarckian concepts, long thought of no relevance to modern evolutionary theory, are enjoying a quiet resurgence with the increasing complexity of epigenetic theories of inheritance. There is evidence that epigenetic alterations, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are transmitted transgenerationally, thus providing a potential mechanism for environmental influences to be passed from parents to offspring: Lamarckian evolution. Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that epigenetics plays an important role in many common medical conditions.

Summary

Epigenetics allows the peaceful co-existence of Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution. Further efforts should be exerted on studying the mechanisms by which this occurs so that public health measures can be undertaken to reverse or prevent epigenetic changes important in disease susceptibility. Perhaps in 2059 we will be celebrating the anniversary of both Darwin and Lamarck.