A brief history of epigenetics

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2014 Jan 1;6(1):a018200. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a018200.


The term "epigenetics" was originally used to denote the poorly understood processes by which a fertilized zygote developed into a mature, complex organism. With the understanding that all cells of an organism carry the same DNA, and with increased knowledge of mechanisms of gene expression, the definition was changed to focus on ways in which heritable traits can be associated not with changes in nucleotide sequence, but with chemical modifications of DNA, or of the structural and regulatory proteins bound to it. Recent discoveries about the role of these mechanisms in early development may make it desirable to return to the original definition of epigenetics.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin / physiology
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century


  • Chromatin
  • DNA