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In detail

Experiences are inherited through DNA

Experiences are inherited through DNA

Some geneticists claim that the experiences of our ancestors are inherited from parents to children through DNA.

When they make this controversial statement, they do not refer to the human species in general, or to the basic instincts, but to a specific inheritance of a specific person, who is the son or daughter of a particular parent.

At first we thought that nature works on a structural basis that hardly undergo changes over time. But according to an investigation by two Canadian biologists, The life stories (habits, emotional states, psychological traumas) of our ancestors modify and give our genetic material an extra degree of unique and personalized heritage.

Apparently it all started when a neurologist and a biologist entered a bar, drank a couple of beers and talked about their respective lines of research. Apparently, upon leaving the bar they had created a new field of genetics. Although it seems unlikely, this is what happened in a bar to Moshe Szyf (molecular biologist and geneticist at McGill University in Montreal) and his friend Michael Meaney, neurobiologist at the same university.

Around the 1970s, geneticists discovered that the nucleus of cells uses a structural component of organic molecules, methyl, to know what pieces of information do what and observed that methyl helps the cell decide whether it will be a cell of the heart, liver or a neuron. The methyl group operates near the genetic code, but is not part of it. The field of biology that studies these relationships is called epigenetics, because despite the fact that genetic phenomena are studied, they occur around DNA.

Until now, scientists believed that epigenetic changes occurred only during the stage of fetal development, but later studies showed that, apparently, changes in adult DNA may occur they would lead to certain types of cancer. Sometimes methyl groups vary due to dietary changes or exposure to certain substances; however, the real discovery began when Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that these changes could be transmitted from generation to generation.

Finally, Szyf and Meaney have developed an innovative hypothesis: if food and chemicals can produce epigenetic changes, is it possible that experiences such as stress or drug abuse can also produce epigenetic changes in the DNA of neurons? This question was the starting point for a new field in the study of genetics: behavioral epigenetics.

According to this new approach, the traumatic experiences of our past as well as those of our immediate ancestors, leave a series of molecular wounds attached to our DNA. To such an extent that, each race and each people, would have inscribed in their genetic code the history of their culture: the Jews and the Shoah, the Chinese and the Cultural Revolution, the Russians and the GULAG, the African immigrants whose parents were persecuted in The southern United States, or a childhood of abuse and abusive parents, in short, all the stories we can imagine are influencing our genetic code.

From this point of view, the experiences of our ancestors would be modeling our own world experience today, not only through cultural heritage but through genetic inheritance. DNA does not change properly, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited: so, you may not only have your grandfather's eyes, but also his bad character and his tendency to depression.

Submitted by: Raquel Guzmán

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