Encounters between life and language

Philip Ball has just written a great article dissecting new research showing that there is no ‘gene for’ homosexuality. He notes the fallacies behind the facile way of pointing to individual genes and saying what they are ‘for’. This is dangerous, especially when talking about genes for behavioural traits. Single genes don’t determine such traits …

Making the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of trauma real

This post has been co-authored with Aleksandra Stelmach and Alan Miguel Valdez *** Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (TEI) is a contested hypothesis within the complex field of epigenetics. The guess is that there are molecular mechanisms (‘beyond the gene’) through which social, cultural and physical experiences impact the human body and are transmitted to future generations. …

Inspecting Pandora’s box: Promises and perils of gene drives

This is a guest post by Aleksandra Stelmach, University of Nottingham, Institute for Science and Society. *** Some years ago the sociologist Alan Petersen noted that metaphors of new biotechnologies not only express hopes and fears about their use and misuse, but that they also set the agenda for debate and action. Thus, metaphors not …

When is a metaphor not a metaphor?

A few weeks ago Daniel Nicholson posted an article on twitter entitled “Are cells really machines?” This made me think, and I wrote a blog post pondering the relations between science, metaphors and technology. In this post I want to reflect on another aspect of the relation between science and metaphors, namely on when metaphors …

The history of biology and the joys of blogging

For the first time in my life and after the end of my official academic career, I’ll be co-presenting a paper at the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology conference, which is taking place this year in Oslo, from July 7-12. I’ll only be co-presenting and I won’t be there …

Metaphors, machines and the meaning of life

Machine metaphors are ubiquitous in biology, nowhere more so than in synthetic biology, a type of biology that is inspired by engineering and design. This has attracted the attention of metaphor analysts, but also of philosophers and ethicists. Various scholars, both from the humanities/social sciences and the life sciences have grappled with some of the …

New genetics and society: A retrospective

I am in a collecting mood at the moment. When I heard that an article (with Carmen McLeod and Rusi Jaspal) on faecal microbial transplants had finally been accepted by New Genetics and Society, I began to count back and realised I had published quite a few articles in this journal (mostly written in collaboration …

Witness marks: On the trail of an epigenetic metaphor

This is a guest post by Aleksandra Stelmach, University of Nottingham, Institute for Science and Society In a previous post Brigitte Nerlich and I briefly discussed the emergence of a seemingly new metaphor used in popular discussion about epigenetic effects of nutrition on offspring and, potentially, future generations. In this post I try to track …