For generations, a bedrock concept of biology was that genetic mutations are necessary to pass traits from one generation to the next, but new developments in genetics are challenging this fundamental assumption. A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that chemical alteration of the way a gene functions, whether through exposure to chemicals, foods or even traumatic experiences, may not only affect the exposed individual, but also the individual’s offspring for two generations or more. This interaction between genes and the environment, known as epigenetics, has revolutionized the understanding of how genes are expressed within an individual and how they affect that individual’s offspring. Epigenetics also presents novel challenges for chemical regulatory regimes in the United States and around the world. Chemical substances that do not cause mutations typically are not regulated based on their potential effects on future generations. They may be regulated based on their harms to living individuals, or perhaps to those exposed before birth, but until recently future generations were not thought to be at risk. We explore the implications of the new field of epigenetics for public and private regulation of toxics, and we suggest new legal strategies to reflect the new scientific understanding. We argue that new developments in public and private governance suggest optimism for the ability of the environmental regulatory regime to respond to new findings in the science of epigenetics.
Michael P. Vandenbergh, David J. Vandenbergh & John G. Vandenbergh,
Lamarck Revisited: The Implications of Epigenetics for Environmental Law,
Mich. J. Envtl. & Admin. L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjeal/vol7/iss1/2