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Development in gradual stages of differentiation.
Alteration of the mineral content of rock due to outsideinfluences.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(geology), various natural changes in sedimentary rocks after their formation. The term was proposed in 1901–06 by the German geologists R. Beck and R. Stelzner.

In 1940 the Soviet geologist L. V. Pustovalov used the term “epigenesis” for the stage of lithogenesis immediately following diagenesis (seeDIAGENESIS and LITHOGENESIS). In 1957, N. B. Vas-soevich, supported by N. M. Strakhov, N. V. Logvinenko, and others, demonstrated that the term “epigenesis” is the antonym of “syngenesis” and is one of the loosely used terms; it is used to denote any secondary changes in sedimentary rocks, both cata-genetic and supergene changes (seeCATAGENESIS and SUPERGENE PROCESSES). V. N. Kholodov classified (1970) the processes associated with the action of infiltrating mineralized waters and gas emanations on sedimentary rocks as epigenesis.

Epigenesis leads to the formation of a special group of epigenetic deposits, which are most characteristic of the radioactive, nonferrous, and rare-earth metals.


Vassoevich, N. B. “O terminologii, primeniaemoi dlia oboznacheniia stadii i etapov litogeneza.” In Geologiia i geokhimiia, vol. 1 (7). Moscow, 1957.
Strakhov, N. M. Osnovy teoriilitogeneza, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960.
Kholodov, V. N. “O terminakh, primeniaemykh pri izuchenii vtorichnykh izmenenii osadochnykh porod.” Lilologiia i poleznye iskopaemye, 1970, no. 6.



the theory that the embryonic development of an organism is a process of successive new formations.

Epigenesis opposes the theory that various primordial structures are present in the sexual cells of the embryo. The conflict between the supporters of epigenesis and those of preformation has existed throughout the history of biology. Some scientists— including Aristotle, W. Harvey, J. Blumenbach, and H. Driesch—defended epigenesis from an idealistic vitalist standpoint. Others—including R. Descartes, P. L. M. de Maupertuis, G.-L. L. de Buffon, and C. F. Wolff—defended the theory from a mechanist-physical standpoint. The theory that prevailed in a given era was determined by the level of knowledge about fertilization and embryogeny. The widespread acceptance of epigenesis in the middle of the 18th century, due mainly to the work of C. F. Wolff, contributed to the progress of embryology.

Advances in cytology during the 1870’s and 1880’s gave rise to many theories of heredity that rejected epigenesis. The conflict between epigenesis and preformism was especially acute with respect to the mechanics of development. The development of genetics led to the final rejection of the theory of pure epigenesis. The primitive concept of development as a process of complete new formation dependent solely on external or nonphysical factors gave way to the modern theory of genetic information that determines the patterns of ontogeny. However, the actual development of an organism is subjected within the limits of the norm of reaction to greater or lesser change under the influence of internal and external factors. In the light of these ideas, attempts at substantiating epigenesis from the standpoint of cybernetics by W. M. Elsasser and others have proved futile. The assumption of a dualism between preformed molecular-biological genetic structures and supposedly exclusive epigenetic processes of development is equally unacceptable. Modern biology regards the realization of hereditary information in the development of an organism as a single interdependent process.


Gaisinovich, A. E. K. F. Vol’f i uchenie o razvilii organizmov: [V sviazi s obshchei evoliutsiei nauchnogo mirovozzreniia]. Moscow, 1961.
Apter, M. Kibernetika i razvitie. Moscow, 1970.
Davidson, E. Deistvie genov v rannem razvilii. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.