Biology Professor Looks at New Research from a Christian Perspective

Epigenetics“New revelations from the rapidly expanding field of epigenetics show that lifestyle decisions made by individuals could have biological consequences for future generations,” wrote Dr. Clay Carlson, assistant professor of biology, in a recent article for Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith.

Carlson wrote “Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance” after he and his students discovered that the emerging field of epigenetics had not elicited a response from Christians in science. In the article, Carlson explains the science of epigenetics, and more important, suggests ways for Christians to respond to research findings and their potential implications.

A great deal of research has been conducted on nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) in regard to the development of human beings. Epigenetics suggests that a person’s choices and experience have biological effects that can be passed to the next generation, even to future generations.

For example, Carlson noted that in rodents, a high fat diet in males can lead to a predisposition to early onset diabetes in female offspring. This predisposition could be caused by epigenetic changes to genes that regulate the pancreas.

If epigenetic inheritance could carry over to humans, how should Christians respond? Carlson points to two main responses: to teach freedom from epigenetic determinism and stress personal responsibility in making right choices; and to increase efforts to break destructive cycles and to help foster healthful choices.

What’s next for Carlson in this area of study?

First, he has been collaborating with Patrick Page of Palos Park, Illinois, a senior biology major researching the epigenetic markers on cells and how those markers may predispose cells to function. “The chance to learn in this hands-on manner outside of the classroom has been some of my most valuable experiences gained at Trinity,” said Page.

In addition, the findings have prompted Carlson’s current research on gene expression in plants exposed to BPA, an industrial chemical used in making plastics.

Further reading

Read Carlson’s article for Think Christian magazine, “Epigenetics: sign of the Fall or reason for hope?