The epigenetic side of human adaptation: Hypotheses, evidences and theories

Cristina Giuliani, Maria Giulia Bacalini, Marco Sazzini, Chiara Pirazzini, Claudio Franceschi, Paolo Garagnani, Donata Luiselli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Epigenetics represents a still unexplored research field in the understanding of micro- and macro-evolutionary mechanisms, as epigenetic changes create phenotypic diversity within both individuals and populations. Objective: The purpose of this review is to dissect the landscape of studies focused on DNA methylation, one of the most described epigenetic mechanisms, emphasizing the aspects that could be relevant in human adaptations. Methods: Theories and results here considered were collected from the most recent papers published. Results: The matter of DNA methylation inheritance is here described as well as the recent evolutionary theories regarding the role of DNA methylation-and epigenetics in a broader sense-in human evolution. The complex relation between (1) DNA methylation and genetic variability and (2) DNA methylation and the environmental stimuli crucial in shaping genetic and phenotypic variability through the human lineage-such as diet, climate and pathogens exposure-are described. Papers about population epigenetics are also illustrated due to their high relevance in this context. Conclusion: Genetic, epigenetic and phenotypic variations of the species, together with cultural ones, are considerably shaped by a vast range of environmental stimuli, thus representing the foundation of all human bio-cultural adaptations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Human Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Adaptation
  • DNA methylation
  • Environment
  • Human evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Ageing
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Medicine(all)


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