The epigenome and top-down causation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations

Abstract

Genes store heritable information, but actual gene expression often depends on many so-called epigenetic factors, both physical and chemical, external to DNA. Epigenetic changes can be both reversible and heritable. The genome is associated with a physical object (DNA) with a specific location, whereas the epigenome is a global, systemic, entity. Furthermore, genomic information is tied to specific coded molecular sequences stored in DNA. Although epigenomic information can be associated with certain non-DNA molecular sequences, it is mostly not. Therefore, there does not seem to be a stored 'epigenetic programme' in the information-theoretic sense. Instead, epigenomic control is-to a large extent-an emergent self-organizing phenomenon, and the real-time operation of the epigenetic 'project' lies in the realm of nonlinear bifurcations, interlocking feedback loops, distributed networks, top-down causation and other concepts familiar from the complex systems theory. Lying at the heart of vital eukaryotic processes are chromatin structure, organization and dynamics. Epigenetics provides striking examples of how bottom-up genetic and top-down epigenetic causation intermingle. The fundamental question then arises of how causal efficacy should be attributed to biological information. A proposal is made to implement explicit downward causation by coupling information directly to the dynamics of chromatin, thus permitting the coevolution of dynamical laws and states, and opening up a new sector of dynamical systems theory that promises to display rich self-organizing and self-complexifying behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-48
Number of pages7
JournalInterface Focus
Volume2
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

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Keywords

  • Causality
  • Emergence
  • Epigenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering

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