by Richard Gonzalez
Addressing the problems of modern society requires deep knowledge, creativity, and a diverse set of skills. To understand, for example, the current type 2 diabetes epidemic, why some subpopulations are more vulnerable or resilient to this disorder than others, requires a bit of epidemiology, a bit of a demography, a bit of a genetics, a bit of a psychology, a bit of anthropology, and so on.
No single person can embody all of the necessary knowledge, creativity, and skill to solve these problems. But we live in great times; science has advanced far enough that the imaginary boundaries traditionally used to divide one academic discipline from another, one type of scientist from another, are fading. Every day that we add to our knowledge of the world, the chasm that separates social scientists from bioscientists shrinks a little more. In order to create a transdisciplinary scholarship capable of addressing today’s big research questions, we must take advantage of this situation. We must build bridges to connect our previously distant academic tribes. In short: we need to collaborate—but first we need to speak each other’s languages.
This tutorial series serves as one “language lesson” in epigenetics, a field that demonstrably bridges the social and biological sciences. At its core, epigenetics is about the interaction between the environment (both physical and social) and the genome, and their combined effect on the human condition. In the next few decades, research in epigenetics may transform the way we look at human development and personalized medical care.
To help us get there, this tutorial series covers the basic scientific background necessary to facilitate conversations between social science and bioscience researchers. The epigenetics tutorial is divided into five modules, from basic through more advanced concepts:
Readers should feel comfortable skipping over modules whose content is already familiar to them.
In addition to our tutorials, I also recommend the excellent educational resource Genetics and Social Science: Expanding Transdisciplinary Research produced by the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics (NCHPEG), and I hope you will visit them, too.