Can a Parent's Life Experience Change the Genes a Child Inherits?

In the 1800s, scientists like Charles Darwin first framed heredity as a scientific question. They wanted to know what each generation transmitted to the next. At the dawn of the twentieth century, researchers spotted the first glimmers of genes. They found a way by which living things today could be correlated with their biological past. This theory of heredity was pitted against Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s claim that acquired characteristics could be passed down. Lamarck has remained an icon of pre-genetic thinking ever since.

Regardless of whose name should be put on the idea, it continued to fall out of favor over the course of the 20th century. But some scientists continued to fight for conceptual room for more than one form of heredity. If we simply redefine heredity as genetics, they argued, we will never even look for those other channels.

Toward the end of the 20th century, a few cases came to light that looked an awful lot like the inheritance of acquired traits.

Brian Dias, a postdoctoral researcher at Emory University, wondered if mice might even pass down memories. Dr. Dias is NS faculty member.

Click here to view the full story in The Atlantic.