Mae-Wan Ho: No Boundary Really Between Genetic and Epigenetic


As co-founder and director of ISIS (Institute of Science in Society), the UK-based organization focused on reclaiming science for the public good, Mae-Wan Ho, a geneticist, has for many years questioned the engineering of our food supply and addressed other biotechnology issues. She has also been one of neo-Darwinism’s most effective critics.

Oxford University physiologist Denis Noble has cited the early work of Mae-Wan Ho and physicist and theoretical biologist Peter Saunders as partly inspiring his much discussed paper on replacing neo-Darwinism published recently in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Noble wrote the following:

“In certain respects, my article reflects some of the points made over 30 years ago by Ho and Saunders (Ho and Saunders, 1979) who wrote: ‘The intrinsic dynamical structure of the epigenetic system itself, in its interaction with the environment, is the source of non-random variations which direct evolutionary change, and that a proper study of evolution consists in the working out of the dynamics of the epigenetic system and its response to environmental stimuli as well as the mechanisms whereby novel developmental responses are canalized.’ Their ideas also owe much to those of Conrad Waddington – the term ‘canalized’ is one that he often used.”

I decided to phone Ho and Saunders, who are married to each other. My interview with Mae-Wan Ho follows.

Although Ho has not let up in her criticism of the Modern Synthesis, as our conversation reveals, she says evolutionary science has now “moved on to such an extent” that she and Peter Saunders don’t really care anymore about “trying to convince the neo-Darwinists.”

Mae-Wan Ho’s BSc in biology and chemistry (first class honors) and her PhD in biochemistry are from Hong Kong University. She was a —> Read More