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Epigenetics/Inheritance and the Environment

Epigenetics/Inheritance and the Environment

The genome’s dynamic response to the environment

Epigenetics is an emerging field of science that studies heritable changes caused by the activation and deactivation of genes without any change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism. The word epigenetics is of Greek origin and literally means over and above (epi) the genome.

Learn more from scientific experts about Epigenetics/Inheritance and the Environment at NHGRI's Talking Glossary

Materials for Epigenetics/Inheritance and the Environment


Engaging Epigenetics: A Tool for Stakeholder Education

Description: An animation on epigenetics showing how a pollutant, like BPA, can change how a gene is expressed.


Beyond The DNA

Description: A concise and well illustrated guide to epigenetics and health.

Epigenetic Influences and Disease

Description: An article by Danielle Simmons on how epigenetic changes are involved in human disease

Genetics and Epigenetics (PDF 119.49 KB)

Description: A printable poster introducing the concept of epigenetics

The Time Of Our Lives

Description: Read this article to get an insightful look at the genes that play a major role in your circadian rhythm.


Teacher Resources

Epigenetics Module (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: These three lesson plans explore some of the mechanisms that turn genes on and off and how our environment can affect this.

Genes, Environment and Genetic Complexity: Aggression in Humans (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Questions about whether genetics can, in part, explain violent, aggressive behavior in humans are not new. Recent episodes of large-scale violence, whether in schools or other public places, have renewed discussion about the intersection of crime, mental health and genetics. In this lesson, students are asked to examine popular but incorrect ideas related to the idea that a single gene or even set of genes can cause humans to behave aggressively.

NOVA scienceNOW - Epigenetics (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Students make a model of chromatin and use it to show how chemical tags that bond to the chromatin can influence its uncoiling.

The Mystery of Calico Cats (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this lesson, students explore the genetics and epigenetics behind calico cats. Using sex-linked Punnett squares, students must determine what the genotype for coat color is for calico cats. The class then discusses why dosage compensation for the X chromosome is necessary in females and how that relates to the patchy appearance and female sex of calico cats.

What Changes Our Minds? Toxicants, Exposure, and the Environment

Description: A series of lesson plans and laboratory experiments exploring the effects of environmental exposure to chemicals. You may need to register to view the plans, but the lesson plans and registration is free.

What Makes Honey Bees Work Together? (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: A series of lesson plans exploring how genes and environment affect behavior, as well as introduces students to research tools used to investigate gene expression. You may need to register to view the lesson plans, but the plans and registration is free.

What Makes Me Tick...Tock? Circadian Rhythms, Genetics, and Health (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: A series of lesson plans exploring how environment, genes, and proteins affect behavior. The lesson plans incorporate real-life examples, case studies, and interactive online components to teach concepts of epigenetics. You may need to register to view the lesson plans, but the plans and registration is free.


NOVA - Epigenetics

Description: An engaging 13 minute video on epigenetics. Explore why identical twins can have subtle differences in appearance, and learn about a research study involving genetically identical mice that differ greatly in size.