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Research project: Beyond the Gene

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This project focuses on the shift in scientific understanding which is currently occurring, as research in epigenetics takes us beyond the powerful, gene-centric model that dominated science and culture in the twentieth-century.  We want to develop an accurate, informed picture of this transition, based on genuine dialogue between the sciences, the humanities and the wider public. We are bringing together leading researchers in biomedicine, literary studies, philosophy and creative writers to explore collaboratively the epigenetic cultures of the 21st century.

This project focuses on the seismic shift which is currently occurring as research in epigenetics takes our understanding of the human condition beyond the powerful, gene-centric model that dominated science and culture in the twentieth-century. Current research in epigenetics is uncovering the complex entanglement of genetic and non-genetic factors which shape human development and in so doing is opening up new ways of thinking about inheritance, genetic determinism, and the plasticity or malleability of the body and the person. This new paradigm has far-reaching implications for the concepts of personhood and identity that circulate in literary and cultural theory. Writers of fiction and poetry are becoming aware of this scientific transition and have begun to engage with the questions it raises, e.g. about the biological foundation of family ties and the validity of the distinction between nature and nurture. This is a moment when public understanding of heritability and genetics is beginning to be transformed, and we want to help lay the foundations for an informed understanding based on genuine dialogue between the humanities and the scientists.

The project brings together leading researchers in biomedicine, literary studies, philosophy and one or more creative writers, to explore collaboratively the epigenetic cultures of the 21st century. Through workshops, a public event a website, and a special issue of a journal, we aim to raise awareness of the implications of transition from the genetic to the epigenetic across disciplines.

Public Event
'Beyond the Gene: New Perspectives on Inheritance', 12th September 2012
18:00 - 20:30, at the Linnean Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly
Speakers will include: Professor Evelyn Fox Keller (MIT), author of The Century of the Gene, Making Sense of Life and The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture and Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, Lighthousekeeping and The Stone Gods among other novels, who will be talking about her acclaimed new memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.

Further details of the project and our events can be found on the Beyond the Gene website.

Beyond the Gene
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