Parents May Pass Memories to Their Kids
Learned fears can continue through generations: mouse study
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted Dec 2, 2013 8:32 AM CST
Parents appear to be able to pass a type of memory onto their offspring.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – It may be possible to learn your parents' fears—without ever experiencing the relevant threat. Researchers taught mice to fear a cherry blossom smell, then looked at the creatures' sperm. A portion of DNA tied to the scent was particularly active, and two generations of descendants were found to be "highly sensitive" to the smell. They tried to avoid the scent even though they themselves had never previously been exposed to it; what's more, their brain structures were altered, the BBC reports.

"The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations," researchers said in the Nature Neuroscience report. The findings, says an expert, are "highly relevant to phobias, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders." But some outside researchers say the findings need a clearer explanation, Nature notes. "The claims they make are so extreme they kind of violate the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," says one. Scientists began researching the matter after noticing a cycle of addiction and neuropsychiatric issues among inner-city generations, Nature reports.

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Showing 3 of 15 comments
starfirebird
Dec 9, 2013 11:40 PM CST
This sounded similar to the pre-Darwinian (and pre-genetic) evolutionary concept known as Lamarckism, regarding the supposed inheritability of so-called 'acquired traits', that we learned about in grade school. (Remember the cliched example -- obviously not based on evidence -- that if a giraffe stretches its neck reaching for higher foliage, it will bear offspring with longer necks?) So I looked it up on Wikipedia, and learned a little something about 'epigenetics', which we weren't taught in school. Search terms Lamarckism and epigenetics if interested...
iq145
Dec 2, 2013 11:37 PM CST
This is the basis of inherited "instinct", isn't it? People are, after all, animals (some more than others...)
Frank Sullivan
Dec 2, 2013 8:45 PM CST
yeah i believe it, somethin' always told me we weren't born with 'clean slates'