Medical researchers are beginning to ask a question: Can the effects of a trauma experienced by one generation somehow be passed on to subsequent generations? Could the deeply traumatizing experience of surviving, for example, genocide or severe malnutrition negatively impact the health of subsequent generations of survivors’ children?
Jews, homosexuals, and others experienced brutal persecution during World War Two. Contemporary Native Americans are the offspring of survivors of a concerted effort at genocide, both physical and cultural, through the Indian Wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the boarding school system that stripped Indigenous North Americans of their cultural knowledge, including their languages and … » More …
Nature or nurture? It seemed so simple a debate when I was younger and first learning biology. DNA and genes determined some of our traits, and the rest came from family, society, and other external factors.
There was certainly debate about the extent of what we could learn versus what we inherit as hard-coded genetic information. Well, that discussion is a lot more complicated now, as recent empirical research and discoveries show offspring can inherit traits developed by parents’ environment and experiences. Basically, what’s passed on to kids is not just in the genetic code.
Darwin developed key aspects of his theory of evolution while pondering finches from the Galapagos Islands. It’s only fitting that reproductive biologist Michael Skinner would choose those same islands to propose a Lamarckian idea—that environment can directly impact inheritance of physical traits.
In this case, the process is driven by epigenetics, he says. “If we think about evolution, we can’t simply think of genetics. We also need to think about epigenetics.”
According to Skinner, epigenetic mutations occur 1,000 times more frequently than do genetic mutations and could help explain why new species emerge more often than expected.
“The reason epimutations exist might be to dramatically … » More …
In a word, Michael Skinner is tenacious. Growing up on a ranch outside Pendleton, the former Eagle Scout and college wrestler learned early on that you don’t back down from a little head-butting or controversy. It’s all just part of the game.
The trait has served Skinner ’82 PhD well over the years and enabled him to persevere through the fallout of a chance discovery in his reproductive biology lab in the 1990s. The unexpected findings threw 200 years of scientific ideology into question and initiated a paradigm shift in the understanding of inheritance and evolution. They also sparked a wave of outrage and … » More …