Epigenetics: How Genes and Environment Interact

The Muscle Cellular and Molecular Physiology Research Group and Institute of Sport and Physical Activity Research cordially invite you to an evening (Monday 19 November 2012) for the public understanding of science with Professor Randy L. Jirtle. His lecture is entitled “Epigenetics: How Genes and Environment Interact”

Professor Randy L. Jirtle headed the epigenetics and imprinting laboratory at Duke University in Durham, NC until 2012. He is now a Visiting Professor at McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in the Department of Oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, WI. Jirtle’s research interests are in epigenetics, genomic imprinting, and the fetal origins of disease susceptibility. He has published over 180 peer-reviewed articles, and was a featured scientist on the NOVA television program on epigenetics entitled Ghost in Your Genes. He was invited to speak at the 2004 Nobel Symposium on Epigenetics. He was honored in 2006 with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2007, Jirtle received an Esther B. O’Keeffe Charitable Foundation Award and was nominated for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” He was the inaugural recipient of the Epigenetic Medicine Award in 2008, and received the STARS Lecture Award in Nutrition and Cancer from the National Cancer Institute in 2009. Jirtle was invited in 2010 to participate in the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, and the Nestlé’s 7th International Nutrition Symposium in Switzerland. Jirtle organized the Keystone Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Susceptibility meeting, received the EHP Classic Paper of the Year Award, and was invited to speak again in the Nobel Forum at a clinical epigenomics symposium sponsored by The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm in 2011. Dr. Jirtle was invited this year to present the NIH Director’s WALS lecture.

Monday 19 November 2012 Evening Programme 18:00-19:30 in the Performance Theatre (D1.02), Polhill Avenue, Bedford, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom Directions

To register for this free event follow this link http://uob.cc/genes

Evening program

Dr William M. Brown introductory remarks 18:05-18:10

Professor Randy L. Jirtle’s “Epigenetics: How Genes and Environment Interact” 18:10

Summary: Human epidemiological and animal experimental data indicate that the risk of developing adult onset diseases and neurological disorders is influenced by persistent adaptations to prenatal and early postnatal environmental exposures. One group of epigenetically regulated genes that potentially links environmental exposures early in development to adult diseases are those with metastable epialleles. These genes have highly variable expression because of stochastic allelic changes in the epigenome rather than mutations in the genome. The viable yellow agouti (Avy) mouse harbors a metastable Agouti gene because of an upstream insertion of a transposable element. We have used the Avy mouse to investigate the importance of epigenetic alterations in determining adult disease risk in response to early developmental exposure to both chemical and physical agents. The importance of these studies with regards to human health and disease will be discussed.

Questions from audience and closing remarks 19:00-19:30

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Off to Vienna to give a talk: Where Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz and Johann Gregor Mendel received their scientific education

Giving a talk on symmetry and performance at the University of Vienna Friday 18 August 2012 for the International Society of Human Ethology.  Former students include, Sigmund Freud, Kurt Gödel, Karl Popper, and more notably for me Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz and Johann Gregor Mendel — better incorporate a touch of genomics in his honour.


Great photograph of Mendel.


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Symmetry and Evolution: A Genomic Antagonism Approach

Image source: Dr. Brian E. Staveley  Department of Biology  Memorial University of NewfoundlandSymmetry of structure is pervasive through nature and its failure has interested biologists at least Darwin. Below is a working draft of a manuscript I have written presenting a new perspective on fluctuating asymmetries, based in part, on genomic conflict considerations. This manuscript is slated to be published in Filomena de Sousa and Gonzalo Munévar (Editors) Sex, Reproduction and Darwinism. Pickering & Chatto Publishers of London later this year.  All comments most welcome.


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Evolution and behavour re-imagined

A couple of Nobel prize winners thinking about the biology of behaviour. My favourite dance expert Karl von Frisch is missing unfortunately from this classic photograph.

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New MSc in Molecular and Cellular Exercise Physiology begins in 2012

Our new MSc in Molecular and Cellular Exercise Physiology was approved with flying colours. I am the programme leader, so this is an early call to all students of behavioural biology encouraging their applications. Especially the ones who want to learn how to conduct evolutionary based wet lab research. Watch this space for more details in the coming months.


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A new theory of language evolution

Language—as with most communication systems—likely evolved by means of natural selection. Accounts for the natural selection of language can usually be divided into two scenarios, either of which used in isolation of the other are insufficient to explain the phenomena: (1) there are group benefits from communicating, and (2) there are individual benefits from being a better communicator. In contrast, this paper argues that language emerged during a coevolutionary struggle between parental genomes via genomic imprinting, which is differential gene expression depending on parental origin of the genetic element. It is hypothesized that relatedness asymmetries differentially selected for patrigene-caused language phenotypes (e.g., signals of need) to extract resources from mother early in child development and matrigene-caused language phenotypes (e.g.,  socially transmitted norms) to influence degree of cooperativeness  among kin later in development. Unlike previous theories for language evolution, parental antagonism theory generates testable predictions at the proximate (e.g., neurocognitive areas important for social transmission and language capacities), ontogenetic (e.g., the function of language at different points of development), ultimate (e.g., inclusive fitness), and phylogenetic levels (e.g., the spread of maternally derived brain components in mammals, particularly in the hominin lineage), thus making human capacities for culture more tractable than previously thought.

Enjoy the forthcoming contribution to the study of language evolution (all comments welcome) appearing in the journal Human Biology in 2011.

Link to proof of paper

You may cite the paper as follows:

Brown, W.M. (2011). The parental antagonism theory of language evolution: Preliminary evidence for the proposal. Human Biology, 83 (2), 213-245.

If you are interested in learning more about this idea and feel like travelling to Lausanne, Switzerland Tuesday 21 June 2011, come see my talk on the subject at The University of Lausanne’s Center for Integrative Genomics.

More information below:






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Laws of Attraction at the Natural History Museum in London Friday April 29th 2011 7pm

Here about the "Laws of Attraction" with Dr Brown and others at the Natural History Museum in London

Wire Frame Body Models courtesy of Lisa Naugle University of California

The Laws of Attraction – After Hours event

Come see me give a talk on the laws of attraction. Drink, food and debate — cannot think of a better way to spend a Friday night in April 🙂



29 April 2011 19:00

Before love and lust comes attraction. Stolen glances, butterflies, tingly spine, your eyes meet across a crowded room, and sparks fly.

But what is it that makes us attractive? And can we do anything to boost our levels – or even play them down?

Join us to talk about the many strategies humans, and animals too, have to bring us all closer to the object of our desires.

We’ll be discussing physical features, colour, display, scent and more as we explore the art of attraction, the science of seduction and what sometimes comes in between… the connivance of cheating!

Looking to bag yourself a prince… or princess? Then don’t miss this.

We’ll be joined by guest speakers. Watch this space for details.

£9 members

Booking Required
Book tickets online


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