Researchers have shown for the first time that our ancestors memories can be passed down in DNA


A Nature Neuroscience study has shown that mice who’ve been trained to avoid a smell passed the aversion on to their “grandchildren” and experts believe that the results were important for phobia and anxiety research.

The mice in question were trained to fear the smell of cherry blossom and then the team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm and what they found was that the section of DNA that was responsible for smell, and sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent, was more active in the mice’s sperm.

The mice’s offspring, and their offspring were then found to be extremely sensitive to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent – despite never having experienced it in their lives and the researchers also found changes in the offsprings brain structures.


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“The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving appear to markedly influence both structure and function of the nervous system of subsequent generations,” said Dr Brian Dias, the lead researcher.

The findings, while still in their early stages appear to provide evidence of what many scientists have long suspected – the existence of “Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance.” In short that the environment of the adults can have an effect on their offspring.

“This might be one mechanism that descendants show imprints of their ancestor and at this point in time there is absolutely no doubt that what happens to the sperm and egg will affect subsequent generations,” he said.


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Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London meanwhile 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, saying:

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously. I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

In the smell aversion study, is it thought that some of the odour might have ended up up in the bloodstream which affected sperm production or that a signal from the brain was sent to the sperm to alter DNA.

The research continues.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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