Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm
423 Morrill Hall
Health, Wealth and the Epigenome: Enacting Epigenetics in Aging Research
Aging research explores the basic biological mechanisms of aging and age-related disease. As the ‘aging society’ is framed as one of today’s grand challenges, particularly in the global North, the field is gaining momentum. Epigenetics - that is the study of changes in gene expression that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence itself but that are due to chemical modifications upon the DNA – has become increasingly important for aging research. This talk explore which kinds of epistemic and biopolitical formations arise with the integration of epigenetics into aging research. Drawing on literature analysis, participant observation at international conferences and interviews, the paper identifies two distinctly different ways in which epigenetics and aging have become linked. On the one hand, epigenetics has become important for research focusing on the continuous biological malleability of aging processes across the life course. On the other hand, it is integral to research investigating how early life experiences and exposures come to 'program' aging trajectories. These two perspectives do not only differ epistemically, but also entail distinctly different visions of possible clinical, social and political responses to the challenges of the aging society. Particularly, questions of social inequality figure differently in each perspective. With this analysis, I show that epigenetics, rather than moving biological research in one specific direction, can participate in heterogeneous epistemic formations with diverging biopolitical momenta, and thus merits situated exploration.