Animal experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations.
A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice, trained to avoid the smell of cherry blossom, passed their aversion on in two subsequent generations.
The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm. A section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent had been made more active in the mice's sperm. Both the mice's offspring, and their offspring, were extremely sensitive to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experiencing it in their lives.
Changes in brain structure were also found.
The findings provide evidence that the environment can affect an individual's genetics, which can in turn be passed on.
Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London, said the findings were "highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders" and provided "compelling evidence" that a form of memory could be passed between generations.
This leads me to wonder if attitudes can be inherited along with smells. For instance, the aversion to walking alone in the dark. However, this could be affected by lessons learned and scary movies. What about racial discrimination? Is this learned or passed down the generations through word of mouth?
I have no racial discrimination, despite never seeing another race until I was in my mid-thirties. Adelaide, South Australia, consisted of mainly English people. My first sight of Aboriginals gave me a sense of wonder. Then, twenty years on when I arrived in England, I gazed with fascination at West Indian women in their colorful clothing and bright golden jewelry whenever I rode on the Tube. As you can see, I had no background to judge other races.
I've got to admit that racial prejudice is rife amongst many normal English people. However, I think the attitude could be taken from their parents rather than their genes.
I used to have a phobia with my first husband, much as I told myself to ignore the rippling in my back each time we were close. Despite loving him, the fear would rise each time--he would stab me in the back. I can remember the spot thirty years later--under the ribcage to the right. After his betrayal, we separated, and the feeling left me. Somehow, I've decided this is a lingering memory from another life. I dreamed once of a flag associated with him--the crescent moon and two stars. Scary.
Well, scientists, on with the phobia and anxiety research.