DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your Life

Posted on July 20, 2008  Comments (5)

How your behaviour can change your children’s DNA

Until recently that would also have been the opinion of most scientists. Genes, it was thought, were highly resilient. Even if people did wreck their own DNA through bad diet, smoking and getting fat, that damage was unlikely to be passed to future generations.

Now, however, those assumptions are being re-examined. At the heart of this revolution is a simple but controversial idea: that DNA can be modified or imprinted with the experiences of your parents and grandparents.

According to this new science, known as epigenetics, your ancestors’ diet, smoking habits, exposure to pollutants and levels of obesity could be affecting you today. In turn, your lifestyle could affect your children and grandchildren.

If we drink heavily, take drugs, get fat or wait too long to reproduce, then epigenetics might start tying up some of the wrong genes and loosening the bonds on others. Sometimes those changes will affect sperm and egg cells.

It seems to me this area is still far from having conclusive proof. But it is another great example of scientists seeking to improve our knowledge of how things work.

Related: Nova on EpigeneticsEpigenetics: Sins of the fathers, and their fathersEvidence for Transgenerational Transmission of Epigenetic Tumor Susceptibility in Drosophilaposts on DNA

5 Responses to “DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your Life”

  1. David Bradley
    July 21st, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

    There will, of course, never be absolute proof, but science has been building up a decent store of evidence for a long while now. I remember reading how there was a hint that grandparents’ diet and lifestyle could offer greater risk factors for some diseases than straightforward genetics would suggest. There are possible mechanisms how that might happen in terms of upbringing, certainly, but epigenetics might actually be more plausible than a tortuous chain of events.

  2. Anonymous
    August 3rd, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

    I like this theory a lot, as it re-invigorates the good old “nature v nurture” debate. In the last decade or so, I think much scientific work has suffered from genetic determinism. We’re told we’re fat because of genes, we smoke because of genes, etc., and that perspective seems a bit limited. This new line of research looks like it might be able to shed some light on the complexities between humans and our environments.

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  5. Epigenetics, Scientific Inquiry and Uncertainty » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    September 20th, 2014 @ 7:34 am

    […] Science is full of fascinating ideas. Epigenetics is one area I find particularly interesting. This previous post has a few links to learning more: DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your Life. […]

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