You Might Inherit More Than Just Genes

This gives a whole new meaning to inheriting ideas from your parents. New research from Emory University indicates that parents' learned behaviors and memories could be passed down to children. However, the 'how' is not exactly clear. In the study, published in Nature Neuroscience , scientists had mice breathe in sweet-smelling acetophenone while also giving them a little shock on the foot. They repeated this, Pavlov-style, a few times, which eventually meant the mice startled as soon as they smelled the compound. Here's the strange part: after researchers bred the jumpy mice, their offspring — having no prior exposure to acetophenone — also became startled the first time they smelled it. So did the next generation. Evolution for the nearly-immediate win.

The "fear" was present even when the exposed-parent and their offspring were separated (meaning there couldn't be any sort of parental interference) and when IVF was used in place of usual breeding tactics — so the aversion is likely traceable to something in genetics.

The Emory paper, although published, is still under review by geneticists, who are a little wary of the conclusions. We still don't know, for instance, how something experienced via the brain's neurons would make it all the way down to the sperm that quickly.

As also suggested, "It all has a whiff of the long-defunct idea of Lamarckian evolution" — aka the idea that acquired traits (in this case, learned responses) could be passed down (Lamarck was that guy who thought giraffes' necks stretched more and more over generations to be able to reach trees). Still, exciting stuff.

Image: Wikimedia Commons