Ancestors' Genetic "Memories" Could Be Passed On For 14 Generations

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Robin Andrews 21 Apr 2017, 17:41

This particular study looked at C. elegans nematodes, types of roundworms with very short lifespans. The researchers genetically engineered them to carry a glowing gene, a protein that fluoresced, so they could track it under UV light.

They then placed the worms in a cold environment and watched as the gene glowed, but dimly. Moving them to a warm environment, they saw the gene glow far more brightly. When they were moved back to the cold room, the gene continued to glow, which suggested the “memory” of the warm environment was maintained.

Incredibly, when these worms reproduced, this memory, via this glowing gene, was passed on through an unprecedented 14 generations, no matter whether they received it via eggs or sperm. This means that their offspring would be “aware” of the warm environment even without having experienced it themselves.

"We don't know exactly why this happens, but it might be a form of biological forward-planning,” lead author, Adam Klosin of the European Molecular Biology Organization, said in a statement.

“Worms are very short-lived, so perhaps they are transmitting memories of past conditions to help their descendants predict what their environment might be like in the future,” co-author Tanya Vavouri, a researcher from the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute in Spain, added.

The Assassin's Creed series uses the concept of "genetic memory," which isn't too dissimilar from what is described in this paper. 20th Century Fox via YouTube

So if worms can “remember” the experiences of their long-gone ancestors, can humans? For now, that question will have to remain tantalizingly unanswered – but it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility.

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