Are you scared of spiders, just like your mum, or hate confined spaces, and your son does too? Well new research has shown that phobias and similar information can be inherited and passed down through generations.
Previously, scientists had thought that memories and learned experiences evolve and emerge during a lifetime, through teaching or through personal events, but now it’s seems it’s possible for them to be inherited biologically through chemical changes in our DNA.
In Atlanta, mice were tested at the Emory University School of Medicine, and it was found that information linking to traumatic or stressful experiences (like a fear of a particular smell) could be passed on. They proved this by training the mice to fear a smell of cherry blossom, using electric shocks, before allowing them to breed. Their offspring also showed signs of trauma towards the smell, despite having never smelt it before. This link was verified when looking at the matching structural changes in the DNA of both generations.
This new phenomenon means that a fear of spiders (or mice themselves!) could be down to the bad encounter of an ancestor. More research is being planned, however, to understand how the information is stored in the DNA in the first place. Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London was pleased with the findings, saying that ‘it is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously’.
Lydia Jones blogs at abitofwhatifancy.blogspot.co.uk
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