Phobias could be genetic

There is an old tradition that pregnant mothers must be particularly careful to be quiet, calm, and avoid frightening experiences or else they might ‘mark the baby.’

There are similar ‘old wives tales’ all over the world.

And while it’s not limited to pregnant mothers, there appears to be some research supporting this as something possibly more than a mere ‘old wives’ tale.  I don’t know what I think about it at this point, beyond just finding it fascinating:

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

BAsically, the had mice that they trained to connect the smell of cherry blossoms with a dreadful fright. The descendants of those mice also responded to cherry blossom odors with fear, even those descendants who were the result of artificial insemination. This would make the tales of those superstitious old wives even more restrained than the scientific theory, which I find amusing.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.
….The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.
The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.
This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.
The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.
They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

What else might we be experiencing that alters our genomes and passes on to the next generation? Who knows, but it’s at least worth thinking about, and might be some further incentive to live right.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Wow. I’ve heard of people who survive traumatic experiences, for instance Holocaust survivors, passing along memories and fears to their children. Some people believe memories are locked in the DNA.

  2. Melanie E.
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  3. harmonyl
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    You mean there’s really something to Tae-gyo after all? Next pregnancy maybe I’ll be more careful to think happy thoughts and to only eat beautiful, unbroken food.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      Wouldn’t it be interesting? So many cultures have similar old beliefs about passing such things on to the children.

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