LATEST DIALOGUES Perhaps our Fears are not Ours?
Certain fears arising in response to the environment may be passed from generation to generation without changes in the genetic sequence.
This could have implications for families suffering from cycles of drug addiction, neuropsychiatric illness and other behavioral prsoblems, but so far the research has only been done in mice, and the results remain controversial.
In a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that the offspring of mice trained to associate electric shocks with the smell of acetophenone—a chemical with a scent similar to cherries and almonds—also displayed signs of fear when exposed to the chemical. This occurred even though the offspring had never experienced that scent before.
The next generation—the “grandchildren” of the mice—also inherited this fear reaction, as did mice born through in vitro fertilization using sperm donated from mice trained to fear acetophenone.
Although the researchers are not certain how this fear passes from one generation of mice to the next, they suspect it is due to a form of epigenetic modification. In epigenetics, the activity of certain genes—not the DNA sequence itself—is altered by a reversible chemical process, a change that may be passed onto offspring.
The researchers have yet to show how this works in mice, but other studies hint at the possibility of similar cross-generational changes in human. If it turns out to be true, then mental health problems caused by the environment might also be visited upon people’s children, and possibly even their grandchildren.
by Mark Wolynn With new discoveries in epigenetics now making headlines, many of us are asking an important question: What are my children really inheriting? Can my baggage, the unfinished business I don’t deal with, pass…Read More...
Norrbotten, the northernmost county in Sweden, seems an unlikely place for scientists to find evidence of a radical new twist in how our genes shape who we are. But here in this sparsely populated county within…Read More...