Terry Speed on Epigenetics

By Grant Jacobs 21/06/2013

Epigenetics is an increasingly used jazz word, and I don’t just mean by scientists. You can see it in magazine articles, marketing spiels, and so on.*

It’s touted as some kind of new, special genetics.

Epigenetics itself isn’t new. It’s basically the business of how our cells express their genetics, how the characteristics of a particular cell type (or organ or animal) are realised from it’s genes.

Some things we’re learning about epigenetics are new, however.

But you don’t have to hear these from me.** You can listen to Terry Speed’s public lecture on epigenetics, given during a particularly strong winter storm in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. (Given that, we ought to praise those who attended too.)

Terry has been making his way around the country on the 2013 Royal Society Distinguished Speaker lecture tour. His talk is intended for a general audience, despite having a ‘secret’ goal to encourage mathematicians and statisticians in get involved in biology. An introduction to his talk can be found on the New Zealand Royal Society website, along with a PDF flyer for it.

[vimeo width=”640″ height=”390″]http://vimeo.com/68811377[/vimeo]


Epigenetics is a major area of research. It’s fascinating stuff – I wish more of the work brought to me explored it. (I’ve been following computational biology of gene regulation for about 25 years, including structural aspects; it’s interesting to look back and see how ideas in gene regulation have evolved and changed over that time.)

* Especially by purveyors of dubious ‘medicines’. It is waved around too much, really, in a similar way that some people use ‘quantum’.

** I’ve a draft post that aims to elaborate on some of my thoughts on epigenetics that one day I might work up to something readable – best to leave it for then.

Other articles on Code for life:

Epigenetics – introductory explanations

Epigenetic dynamics – free

François Jacob

Sea stars and mosaics

Animating our DNA*

Slightly more technical for those that would like to go there:

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure

Find transcription factor motifs in genomes better: add histone acetylation data

0 Responses to “Terry Speed on Epigenetics”

  • It was a fascinating talk (I went in Chch) but, given the sub-title, I was expecting (and hoping for) a bit more of the maths techniques behind the magic.

  • I was a little surprised he didn’t gloss some of the techniques. It’s a hard call though I suppose: people are put off maths a bit (which is a shame). These days I’d challenge myself to give the gist of techniques in conceptual terms. I suspect I think that way, though, through writing this blog. I’ve slowly come around to thinking it’s better to try explain things conceptually rather than either avoid them or use analogies. At least that’s my current thinking!

    I liked how he worked to engage the audience – he did that well. I’ve rarely seen science lectures that encouaged audience involvement that way.