Tentative Course Announcement 55-480-10
Collaborative Writing Project: Epigenetics and Society

Course Description | Syllabus | Topics & Weekly Readings | Articles


Requirements: Excellent writing skills, permission of instructor (mcrawfo@uwindsor.ca). There will be a course registration limit of 24.  The project requires a good mix of competence and interests not all who apply will necessarily be admitted please email instructor). Please apply early so that we can finalize a roster before the first week of class 6 January, 2014.

 Prerequisites: 55-211 Genetics,  OR a senior level background in social policy, social justice, political science, ethics, psychology, and a willingness to learn.

 Meetings will be conducted once per week for three hours, probably in the evening at a time, date, and place to be determined.

Theme: Epigenetics and Society

This is an essay, seminar, and discussion-based course. Recent discoveries in the emerging field of epigenetics touch upon reproductive rights, medical ethics, environmental justice and the role of the state in our homes and lives. Research reveals that traits and dispositions can be modified and transmitted from parents to offspring without changes being made to the DNA sequence of the genome itself. Epigenetics provides a mechanism for environmental challenges met in one generation to be inscribed and transmitted to future offspring.  These changes are embodied in an architectural feature of the genome that is plastic and that differentially modifies the way that regions of the genome are packaged (imprinted). Environment, diet, toxins, and even human relations can alter an epigenetic imprint, and the changes can last for generations. Epigenetics affects individuals subtly, however demographically, the costs can be large indeed. Economics, social justice, racial  and reproductive politics all will be touched. Inevitably, political, legal, and social discourse will focus upon where to balance individual rights and obligations versus societal costs and imperatives. We will summarize, in simple terms, the science that underlies epigenomic influences and effects. We will then outline the temporal and causal complexities that justice models will have to contend with before summarizing with a brief list of the challenges and temptations that will face individuals, families, societies and governments.  We will produce an e-text that starts by conveying in accessible language the state-of-art in the field of epigenetics. Later chapters will illuminate the challenges that epigenetics will pose for reproductive politics, social ethics, as well as for legal, economic, and privacy concerns. The hope is that the book will serve as a resource to stimulate interest and action in government, media, and elsewhere.  At the very least, we will collaboratively assemble a good text for senior level undergraduate courses elsewhere.