On the train to Munich I begin to question the implications of this new knowledge. What does epigenetics really mean for the human race? Can we thwart our destiny with this new found control of our essential molecules? Germany is no stranger to the potentially negative use of such technologies, and as a consequence remains conservative with regard to any kind of genetic research. “In Germany, there’s a general fear about anything which has something to do with biological therapies”, confirms Axhel Imhof (University of Munich).

“It starts from stem cell therapies and extends to gene therapy and everything that kind of does something to cells other than chemical treatments.” In fact, principally as a result of Germany’s stance on genetic research they have missed the biotechnology boat and were very cautious about getting involved in the Human Genome Project. When Axel spends time with his relatives, they sometimes say things like, ‘You know I don’t really understand what you’re doing but I’m afraid you’re doing horrible things’. He believes that science education in schools can counter the problem.

Axel admits that scientists carry part of the blame for beguiling the public. “Scientists want to raise money for their research. When they describe what they’re doing they actually raise hopes, which they may not fulfil. But they have to raise hopes in order to actually get money from non-specialists working for the government.” Strategies to better educate both the public and politicians on significant scientific issues might ameliorate the situation. Axel works on flies, yeast and bacteria, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about legislation prohibiting his research. His research team are interested in the enzymes that can affect how histone proteins interact with DNA. Ultimately, he would like to decipher the epigenetic code.