Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Aren’t epigenetic effects evidence for Lamarckism? © Getty Images

Aren’t epigenetic effects evidence for Lamarckism?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Giraffes’ necks are an evolutionary puzzle but what do they have to do with evolution?

Asked by: Sally Ellis, Manchester


Not really. Epigenetics is when genes alter their activity in response to external factors such as diet, exercise and chemical exposure. The sequence of letters in the DNA doesn’t change, but the DNA molecule acquires other chemical changes that can be passed on to your offspring. These inherited traits last for two or three generations.

Lamarckism says the giraffe got its long neck because parents stretched their own necks slightly during their lifetimes and passed that increase on to their children, and so on. That’s quite different from the Darwinian view that each generation has a certain amount of natural variation, and that giraffes with longer necks have more offspring.

Epigenetics is an important influence on evolution, but it doesn’t drive long-term species change.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


Sponsored content