THE WORLD WRITES ON THE BODY: HOW THE ENVIRONMENT IMPACTS THE PHENOTYPE

Florence (Italy)

May 24th – 25th 2018

Presidents of the Meeting

 

MARIANNE J. LEGATO

The Foundation for Gender-Specific
Medicine
Columbia University
New York, United States of America

GILLIAN EINSTEIN

Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in
Women’s Brain Health and Aging
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

WITH AN UNRESTRICTED GRANT BY

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Scientific Rationale

The central theme of the Symposium “The World Writes on the Body: How The Environment Impacts the Phenotype” will be an exploration of how the environment generates epigenetic mechanisms that impact genomic expression. An area of particular interest is whether or not there is transgenerational transmission of such epigenetic phenomena, i.e., are the experiences/environmental exposures of one generation transmitted to and beyond the third generation of progeny.

The symposium will help bridge the historical gulf between molecular biologists studying genomic expression and social scientists concerned with how the milieu in which the animal exists precisely and predictably affects its function. The two groups have seldom collaborated to resolve the mechanisms of how the environment shapes the phenotype. The emerging science of epigenetics helps us answer this fundamentally important question.

When the whole subject of gender-specific medicine began, there were violent arguments between the biomedical scientists who emphasized the importance of biological sex in determining the phenotype and the sociologists, social scientists and anthropologists, who said that the biomedical camp was ignoring the impact of how the individual’s environment impacted a person’s phenotype. As we understood more and more about the relationship between the two, it was apparent that every experience has an impact on how the genome is expressed through the phenomenon of epigenetics, which modifies the action of genes. Thus, biology and environment interact through a final common pathway through the epigenetic process to produce the unique phenotype that characterizes each one of us. Indeed, some epigenetic modifications are inheritable across at least three generations. For example, a grandfather who is deprived of proper nutrition during the period of slow growth before puberty undergoes a heritable epigenetic modification that is transmitted to his grandson. Such a grandson is more susceptible to insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes than a child with a properly nourished grandfather!

It is time that we stop the process of labeling our symposia and lectures as studies of sex/gender and develop new nomenclature which indicates the final common pathway that defines us all. We need a new word (“gensex” is a possibility) to indicate that there is no division between the two, but that they are complexly related in a single process.

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