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Abstract

Epigenetics is a burgeoning area of biomedical research into the mechanisms by which genes are regulated—how the activity of producing proteins is controlled. Although molecular epigenetic research is highly biochemical, it is of interest to sociologists because some epigenetic changes are environmentally mediated and can persist across the life span or into further generations. Environmental epigenetic research tracks mechanisms by which social forces—from pollution to nutrition to mothering to traumatic experience—become molecularly embodied, affect gene expression, and induce durable changes in behavior and health. We begin with an introduction to the science of environmental epigenetics focused on articulating the logic of experimentation and explanation in this field. Turning to sociologists' key interests, we review the growing literature on epigenetics of socioeconomic status. Finally, we consider how epigenetics offers opportunities and challenges for sociological research on both empirical and theoretical grounds.

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145707
2013-07-30
2024-05-25
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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145707
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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