The role of epigenetics in shaping the foundations of children’s learning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Since the mapping of the human genome there has been an exponential growth of research investigating the way in which environmental factors influence the expression of genes and how this shapes the course of human development. This research has identified some of the underlyingmolecular mechanismswhich regulate cellular processes over the life of all organisms. Findings from these epigenetic studies provide a molecular explanation of how environmental influences can affect gene expression-both in early life and throughout the entire lifespan. This has significant implications for many aspects of human development-including health, behaviour and learning. These new scientific insights help to explain what decades of child development research and large-scale longitudinal studies have shown concerning the heightened sensitivity of children to environmental influences-especially those experienced in utero, infancy and the preschool years. They also provide a biological explanation for social gradients, observed in children’s health and learning outcomes which increase or decrease as a function of socio-economic advantage or disadvantage. Together with recent advances in neuroscience, epigenetic research is bringing a new understanding of the biological processes underpinning key aspects of brain functioning relevant to children’s learning. These include memory consolidation and long-term memory storage as well as stress responsiveness and attention. For these reasons it will be useful for school educators to become familiar with key concepts in epigenetics as an integral part of their scientific literacy. This chapter describes the emerging science of epigenetics and some of the insights it is affording to aspects of brain development and functioning of relevance to children’s learning.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHealth and Education Interdependence
Subtitle of host publicationThriving from Birth to Adulthood
EditorsRichard Midford, Georgie Nutton, Brendon Hyndman
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9789811539596
ISBN (Print)9789811539589
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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