Thursday, December 12, 2013

BBC: Memories pass between generations

Odin with the Corpse of Mimir, painting by
Georg Pauli (1855-1935)

The Norse god, or giant, Mimir, the rememberer, tells us that The Well of Knowledge and Wisdom is guarded by Memory 

'Memories' pass between generations, by James Gallagher, December 1, 2013

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest.

Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their "grandchildren".

Experts said the results were important for phobia and anxiety research.

The animals were trained to fear a smell similar to cherry blossom.

The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm.

They showed a section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was 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 experienced it in their lives.

Changes in brain structure were also found.

"The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations," the report concluded.

Family affair

The findings provide evidence of "transgenerational epigenetic inheritance" - that the environment can affect an individual's genetics, which can in turn be passed on.

One of the researchers Dr Brian Dias told the BBC: "This might be one mechanism that descendants show imprints of their ancestor.

"There is absolutely no doubt that what happens to the sperm and egg will affect subsequent generations."

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.

He commented: "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 either some of the odour ends up in the bloodstream which affected sperm production or that a signal from the brain was sent to the sperm to alter DNA.


It is sometimes surprising how easily we forgot, or how limited we are in an era of specialization. Freud's phylogenetic endowment (e.g. as regards primal scenes), and Jung's entire concept of archetypes, pertain exactly to what here is called "transgenerational epigenetic inheritance."

We might say that Archetype is Memory.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

For Marcel Proust, a spoonful of the tea and the taste of the madeleine brings him back to the memory of the old grey house upon the street, and “in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in [the] park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.”


SusanBW said...

Thank you for this post Erel. I have been thinking that the idea of "Past Lives" is actually transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. That we do in fact carry memories from generation to generation in our DNA.
SBW, San Franciso

Erel Shalit said...

Thanks Susan for your comment! I think, as well, that we do carry memories across generations, but they may not always be as specific as 'past lives' memories tend to claim – I believe that archetypes constitute an important aspect of transgenerational memory, and 'past lives' combines with archetypal images to create a specific content – which then is a combination of epigenetic inheritance and archetypal image.

SusanBW said...

This poem by Joan Halifax comes to mind.

We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole great body