The epigenetic landscape in the course of time: Conrad Hal Waddington's methodological impact on the life sciences

Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2013 Dec;44(4 Pt B):756-73. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.06.001. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


It seems that the reception of Conrad Hal Waddington's work never really gathered speed in mainstream biology. This paper, offering a transdisciplinary survey of approaches using his epigenetic landscape images, argues that (i) Waddington's legacy is much broader than is usually recognized--it is widespread across the life sciences (e.g. stem cell biology, developmental psychology and cultural anthropology). In addition, I will show that (ii) there exist as yet unrecognized heuristic roles, especially in model building and theory formation, which Waddington's images play within his work. These different methodological facets envisioned by Waddington are used as a natural framework to analyze and classify the manners of usage of epigenetic landscape images in post-Waddingtonian 'landscape approaches'. This evaluation of Waddington's pictorial legacy reveals that there are highly diverse lines of traditions in the life sciences, which are deeply rooted in Waddington's methodological work.

Keywords: Conrad Hal Waddington; Epigenetic landscape; Life sciences; Methodology; Modeling; Stem cell biology.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biological Science Disciplines / history*
  • Biological Science Disciplines / methods
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • United Kingdom

Personal name as subject

  • Conrad Hal Waddington