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Biotech Science

Acquired Characteristics May Be Inheritable 242

Posted by kdawson
from the Lamarck's-revenge dept.
A story from a week or so back in Technology Review describes research coming to the surprising conclusion that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck may have been right — that acquired characteristics can be passed on to offspring, at least in rodents. Lamarck's ideas have been controversial for 200 years, and dismissed in mainstream scientific thinking for nearly that long. "In Feig's study, mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment — given toys, exercise, and social interaction — for two weeks during adolescence. The animals' memory improved... The mice were then returned to normal conditions, where they grew up and had offspring. This next generation of mice also had better memory, despite having the genetic defect and never having been exposed to the enriched environment."
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Acquired Characteristics May Be Inheritable

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  • Finally... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    something that explains religion...
    • by RuBLed (995686) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:15AM (#26869431)
      Interesting eh? So how did it explained religion?

      Is it where the first ones get all the good stuff and the offsprings only get to dream/think about it? Well I could understand that if the scenario was giving dozens of virgins to one guy, the rest would only dream about it. In that case it would be a supply and demand problem, not an inherited one. (or in our case as /.ers, it might not even matter if there's an abundance in the supply anyway.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by goombah99 (560566)

        Interesting eh? So how did it explained religion?

        Well it appears that proclivity for social interaction is acquired. PLus it is somthing you can pass on to others without genetics.

        What's not quite clear to me here is if the children mice were separated from the adults at birth. if not then perhaps the adult mice just are passign on behaviours. if so then maybe there is some extra genetic means of passing things on at the cellualr level or perhaps mice in the womb can experience the behaviours of their parents.

        For example, if the preacher droning or the

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Pescar (1150203)

          I read about this (or something very similar) in new scientist a few weeks ago. If it's what I'm thinking of, the offspring were separated from their parents at birth.

        • by LingNoi (1066278)

          There is no evidence that music being played to babies in the womb does anything. In fact the guy that did the original research did it on college students and no one really understands how this correlation to babies ever materialized.

  • DNA Learning (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mfh (56)

    It could be one day possible to create a kind of device that harmonizes human beings early on in childhood development, increasing their awareness and understandings.

    • Sure, why not? It would have to be provided by male side though as a female's eggs are fixed in numbers from birth.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751)

      That is actually the point. To learn to teach ourselves and our children in the best possible way. Unfortunately, there are those that would have us taught certain things regardless of their merits or value or truth.

      Recently, researchers found that there might be a manner to attach the brain to limbs that have no function due to nerve damage. Apparently there are parts of the brain that can learn to do any function with some training. This means that neuropathways in our brains can be altered through traini

    • Re:DNA Learning (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Forrest Kyle (955623) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:22AM (#26869145) Homepage
      How about books? I know that parents barely try that anymore, but reading does that.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by MrNaz (730548) *

      Or we could create environments where children are encouraged to learn and behave in a mutually co-operative manner! These institutions could perhaps replace schools...

    • by gardyloo (512791) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:40AM (#26869569)

      It could be one day possible to create a kind of device that harmonizes human beings early on in childhood development, increasing their awareness and understandings.

            Beer.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      It could be one day possible to create a kind of device that harmonizes human beings early on in childhood development, increasing their awareness and understandings.

      Maybe, but this study doesn't indicate that. It's far more likely that the parent rodents, who's behaviour had been altered by their conditioning (how else could the scientists know their memory had been altered?) simply altered the childhood conditions their offspring. That is, of course, passing on an acquired trait, but so is culture.

    • It could be one day possible to create a kind of device that harmonizes human beings early on in childhood development

      Yes indeed. If only children usually came with some sort of trainer responsible for their education, wellbeing, food, and shelter.

      You know... like those mice had, when their parents probably interacted with them in a way that requires more memory skills, since they'd learned them earlier.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Metasquares (555685)

      Awareness and understanding of what, exactly? Human suffering? Religion? Politics? Culture? Do we really want a population designed to universally uphold the ethics that society dictates as 'proper' at any moment in time?

      Not only would it clash with the ideals of free will and self-determination, but the consequences of many popular ethics would be disastrous if universally applied. Society is not built upon the categorical imperative.

      Let's not muck with people's morals (or the awareness and understanding t

  • Of course. The brain is quite plastic at such an early stage of development. This is why people that lose vision have great hearing and smelling, etc. My question is whether these effects can occur when the brain isn't the problematic organ.

    In any case, the problem is making sure that we can identify these problems while there's still time to nurture someone to overcome it. The brain is far more plastic in early stages of life than it is in older ones.

    • Of course. It's no surprise that the first generation's memory improved. As the other half of the summary states, this acquired trait was apparently passed on to the second generation, which as far as I know (having not read the article either), can't yet be explained.

  • Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

    by drosboro (1046516) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:09AM (#26869079)

    Lamarck is one of those guys who's name is generally synonymous with bad science (he's about as villified as Darwin is deified). I'm actually a bit (pleasantly) surprised that someone would invest the time into this sort of study.

    That being said, the article is rather short in one important area: a suggested mechanism for this sort of inheritance. Without that, it's bound to be mired in controversy for some time.

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

      by MoellerPlesset2 (1419023) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:18AM (#26869115)

      Lamarck is one of those guys who's name is generally synonymous with bad science (he's about as villified as Darwin is deified).

      What? I've heard Larmarck's evolutionary ideas ridiculed but villified?
      He wasn't that unscientific. He was just wrong.

      Or are you thinking of Lysenko? Now that particular advocate of inherited-acquired-characteristics was indeed a villain, a lousy scientist and a political tool.

      • Lysenko is the perfect example of why mixing politics and science can be a bad thing.

        The belief in acquired characteristics was widespread through the Soviet Union. How else, the Communists argued, would progress be possible if you couldn't better yourself in life and pass on those traits to your children? If everyone just started over a blank slate at birth, wouldn't it be just a big wash where nobody ever improved?

        Of course, that model fails to take into account cultural evolution (memetics), like giving

      • Lysenko has arguably given anyone who suggests the idea of inherited acquired characteristics a sort of guilt by association.

        Ridiculed is probably more accurate than villified.

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cryptoluddite (658517) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:20AM (#26869133)

      Article doesn't say what interactions the adult mice had with their offspring. The benefit may have just been passed to the next generation through regular learning, modeling, etc.

      I don't know about lab mice, but rat packs have a pretty complicated social structure (for example nominating food tasters to try new sources of food) so I'd bet that mice can teach their young a lot more than researchers might suppose.

      • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

        by drosboro (1046516) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:25AM (#26869153)

        Actually, I've just taken a peek at the original article in J. Neuroscience, as posted in the comments below.

        The interesting thing is that this seems to be passed on at embryogenesis - so it's quite distinct from learning. It's also quite distinct from other epigenetic inheritance studies, which have demonstrated that some of mom's behaviour can result in changes in the offspring's tissues. If this is in fact happening at the embryo stage, it is a whole different pathway.

      • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:31AM (#26869189)

        Yes, it does. The article says that the changes are still evident even when the pups are raised by control rats, NOT their mother.

        It also says the change is not permanent - it only lasts a few months. I didn't notice any mention of whether the mother rat still functions at a high level when she's pregnant. If she does, the change could be due to the environment in utero, which would be consistent with the effect fading over time.

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kandenshi (832555) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:24AM (#26869151)

      Here's my personal suggested mechanism.

      Enriched environments have long been known to make mice 'happier' in addition to being better at solving various tests, and having larger brains, etc. This stress-reducing effect has been known to be maintained long after the rats are removed from the enriched environment.

      The change in the mother rats should fully be expected to be partially shared with the pups. The womb is not a completely separate environment that just happens to exist inside the mother, her experiences shape what sort of chemicals(beneficial or detrimental) are delivered to the baby.

      A healthier, less stressed out mother is likely to nurture her babies properly while they're in utero, and uterine environment that's not bathed in stress hormones is generally a preferable one for the baby's neurological development.
      TFA also mentions that an opposite effect occurs, where highly stressed mothers had babies that then also abused their pups tend to have pups that themselves are poorer mothers. They don't mention if problem solving tests were given to these rats, but I'd fully expect that they'd show deficits in tests of memory and intelligence.

      The researchers in the article say that this is a completely shocking discovery, I'd be shocked if it didn't happen. The stress response affects not only the mother, but also the baby, and those changes can be noticed in their later lives. Quel surprise.

      • And exposing a mother to alcohol has effects on the baby as well.

        This test is pretty rediculous. Feed a human mother alcohol and the baby can turn out mal-adjusted. Have a human mother smoke a pack of cigarettes every day and the baby might turn out different.

        Yes human and mouse mothers, what you're exposed to during preganancy can have an effect on your child outside of genetics.

        It should also be noted that darwin proposed "Survival of the Fittest" without any knowledge of genetics. Whether or not ch

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Did you test this on mice or on humans. How many died? Someone think of the children!!1

      • by dasunt (249686)

        The researchers in the article say that this is a completely shocking discovery, I'd be shocked if it didn't happen. The stress response affects not only the mother, but also the baby, and those changes can be noticed in their later lives. Quel surprise.

        I always figured that was realistic as well. Mothers and fetus share many of the same chemicals. Isn't it evolutionary adventageous for the offspring to adapt itself to the environment (the chemicals) it causes? Does the mother seem to have low stress an

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ciderVisor (1318765)

          Isn't it evolutionary advantageous for the offspring to adapt itself to the environment (the chemicals) it causes?

          Individuals don't adapt, populations do.

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by williamhb (758070) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:27AM (#26869161) Journal

      That being said, the article is rather short in one important area: a suggested mechanism for this sort of inheritance. Without that, it's bound to be mired in controversy for some time.

      This is an unfortunate shortcoming of science at the moment. A tested result is rejected until there is a suggested mechanism; as soon as a mechanism is suggested, it is all too often treated as "true" even if the mechanism itself has never been experimentally tested at all but was just plucked out of the air. The one that instantly springs to mind is the 2005 result that being cold can after all make you susceptible to catching a cold. The paper is reasonable and itself admits that its "suggested mechanism" (that capillaries in the nose constrict, reducing access by the immune system) was not itself tested by the authors, but was just an idea they came up with when their actual experiment -- do people sitting around with their feet in bowls of icy water catch colds more often -- gave a positive result. Nonetheless, that mechanism very quickly started getting bandied around as if it were gospel.

      • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:36AM (#26869551)

        How is that a shortcoming of science?

        1) The researches found a result.
        2) Proposed a possible mechanism.
        3) Stated the mechanism was untested and might just be bullshit they cooked up at the pub.

        4) People misreport guess of researchers as "Fact!" ...
        6) "Shortcoming of science!" (and profit?)

        It's sort of like saying that the urban legand "People think we only use 10% of our brain even though research has shown this to be almost certainly false." is a shortcoming of science.

        People talk. People like to have "all the answers". The problem is with gossip not science. 'Science' hasn't ruled on the subject yet. The official stance of 'science' is that the mechanism is unknown.

        Just as 'science' has only found that mouse mothers subjected to certain conditions can pass along the effects to their children even after the conditions have ceased. The mechanism should be discovered before any other conclusions can be reached. The summary is attempting to assign far more consequence to the study than study can provide. The shortcoming is with vague and speculative reporting not science. /rant

      • I really hope it's not the case that results can be rejected due to the lack of a mechanism to explain them.

        Darwin had no mechanism to back his theory of 'origin of species by natural selection'. The mechanisms people had theorized at the time were not really compatible with Darwin's ideas. It wasn't till Mendel's work was appreciated that people had a viable mechanism for the inheritance that fit with Darwin's evolutionary theory.

      • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:27AM (#26870067) Journal
        "This is an unfortunate shortcoming of science at the moment."

        I agree with most of your post but disagree with your conclusion.

        Contrary to the GP's claim there is no requirement in science for a "suggested mechanisim", the results of the experiment are far more important than the explaination. For example, nobody has yet explained gravity but few doubt it exists and that we can acurately predict it's behaviour via models.

        However it is common practice for papers to offer (clearly labelled) speculation in the hope that "someone else" will look for evidence and cite your paper if they find it. A failure to understand the difference between clearly labeled speculation and repeatable experimental results is definitely a "shortcoming" but it is not a "shortcoming of science". Worse still the "shortcoming" of which you speak is often indistingushable from willfull ignorance [abc.net.au].

        "A tested result is rejected until there is a suggested mechanism" - This is simply false.

        IMHO the "unfortunate shortcoming of science" is the apparent inability of it's philosophy to rate a mention in high school science classes. This is not due to a lack of trying, see: Sagan [wikipedia.org], Dawkins [wikipedia.org] and Randi [randi.org]. My own SPECULATION as to why is it so [abc.net.au], is that most people ( including the majority of educators ) simply want certainty and cannot accept a philosophy that shuns it, so the philosophy part is ignored and science becomes a library of factiods that are discovered via inspiration, rather than found via critical thinking.
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:41AM (#26869245) Journal

      a suggested mechanism for this sort of inheritance

      Epigenetics? [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Informative)

      by dunelin (111356) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:42AM (#26869253)

      There is a mechanism for this kind of inheritance and it is part of a growing field called epigenetics. Whether genes are present are not as important as how they are expressed. Are they switched on or off? Experiments show that gene expression can be altered by environment and that epigentic information can be passed down to the next generation. There was a great Nova episode about it.

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02.html

      I'm not sure if this is the exact mechanism involved in this study, but it is a possibility.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Actually, if you read his wikipedia entry, it turns out that Lamarck wasn't extraordinary in the view of inheriting features. Darwins opinion was similar.

      Only the next generation (Neolamarckism) extremed the point of view (giraffes, etc) and Lamarck got held responsible. Luckily he died first :-)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism#Neo-Lamarckism [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yog (19073) *

      One can hypothesize that certain actions lead to genomic changes that will be replicated in the germ line (oocytes or spermatocytes).

      We already know that mutations can introduce genomic changes that are propagated to the offspring. It could be as simple as a replication error in the spermatocyte.

      We also know that hormones activate parts of the genome that may be inactive. Depending on the type of hormone, they enter the cell or effect a change in the cell that causes activation of a segment of DNA in the

    • That being said, the article is rather short in one important area: a suggested mechanism for this sort of inheritance.

      Does it really need one?

      You can do an experiment, you get results. These results suggest...something. It is able to be duplicated. It follows scientific method and rigor.

      The only problem is - most of the methods I can think of this sort of thing using are most decidedly nonscientific. Let's face it - this is closer to philosophy than science. It stands up to testing rigor, but..

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Thiez (1281866)

        > Does it really need one?

        The great thing about comming up with a mechanism for this phenomenon would be that you could make predictions and come up with new experiments. To test the mechanism. For example, do both parents need to be in the enriched environment or is one of them enough (and if one is enough, does it matter if it is the mother or the father)? What happens when we take a fertilized egg from a rat from a boring environment and put it a rat from an interesting environment (or the other way r

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by narcc (412956)

          You're confusing a model with a mechanism.

          We have no mechanism to explain gravity, but a wonderful model that handles it well enough to land us on mars. Mendel didn't have DNA and was able to make predictions and conduct his experiments just fine.

      • by MrHanky (141717)

        Yes, it needs one. I can think of three different ways of passing on these traits (and there may be more): 1) through hormonal influence in the womb, 2) through teaching (mouse mnemonics?) and 3) through some unknown non-DNA genetic mechanism. If it's 1), the traits will likely only last for one generation, if 2), the traits will likely mutate more from one generation to the next, if 3) it may last as long as the family tree.

    • by mcvos (645701)

      This isn't the first time I've heard about developed traits being inherited. And it's obvious that this should be possible: children receive a lot more from their mother than just nuclear DNA. The ovum contains mitochondria and various other organelles and proteins. Furthermore, during pregnancy the mother provides lots of stuff to the child.

      You can inherit viruses, genetic defects caused by viruses, but in some cases apparently also anti-bodies to some diseases, and who knows what else.

      Lamarck may not have

    • by indytx (825419)
      There was already a short segment on Nova about a year ago about epigenetics. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/video/3411/q02-220.html [pbs.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shaitand (626655)

      I don't know about the study but this effect can be readily observed in cannabis plants. Cannabis plants have a differentiated gender, unlike most plants there is a distinct male and distinct female.

      Under stress a female plant can become a hermaphrodite by producing one or more male flowers (there are chemicals to induce this or erratic light patterns or keeping the plant alive under artificial lighting for extreme lengths of time without fertilization). That plant can self pollinate or pollinate another fe

  • Actual article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:10AM (#26869089)

    Here's the actual article [jneurosci.org].

  • by Rand310 (264407) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:15AM (#26869101)

    We're just learning that Histone/DNA modifications can be inherited.

    Histones (the spools around which DNA is stored) tell when the DNA source code should be 'active' vs 'inactive'. And these histones have a huge data space in the form of possible modifications (methylation, acetylation, etc.).

    When DNA is replicated, these histones too are replicated at the same time. And they seem to be replicated in a semiconserved manner similar to DNA (half go to 'old' strand, half go to 'new' strand). And that there is a whole series of touring-like proteins that can 'read' 'write' or 'erase' these modifications.

    If these modifications are made during an organism's life, they can be inherited by offspring.

    Not only is the code being copied, but the 'marks' that tell which/when/where to read the code at any given time/condition too can be passed down. And that these marks can be written in real time rather than waiting for mutations in the code itself.

    There was a recent study that XO females who inherited the X from their father had markedly different dispositions than those who inherited the X from their mother. DNA modification that is unique to how the male or female deal with their own X chromosome could be being passed down to offspring.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751)

      That answered a couple of questions that I have. I'm saying thanks, and ensuring that I can find your post again so I can look more of that information up when I have the time. That there is a possible mechanism says tons given that it does explain most of what is needed to pass the trait on.

      To me, this is one of the great mysteries of evolution. Not a physical trait, but a social trait becomes widespread. Social groupings and culture do not fully account for many things in my view. A genetic susceptibility

      • by Gorobei (127755)

        Who are "they?" There are a ton of studies showing small children are not afraid of bugs (typically, give child a cup with a big fake bug on it -- little children don't care, bigger ones freak out.)

        • by zappepcs (820751)

          Sorry, can't find the study report now. It was to do with instincts, or those brain programs we seem to be born with. Where you say little kids don't care about bugs but older children do, I see kids who are afraid, and kids who are not and I question: Why is that? This would explain it or at least give a possible explanation. To the point of evolution, such things could be passed to offspring supporting survival even in the absence of parents or guardians. This does not apply to all aspects of life it seem

          • by Gorobei (127755)

            "Why is that?" has an easy answer: children learn to be afraid of bugs. It is not an innate response.

            It's easy to test:
            1. have a child
            2. repeatedly show child bugs

            Child only gets grossed out at around age 5. Investigation done.

            My kids are 6 and 4 -- the 6yro hates bugs, the 4yro finds them interesting. In a year or two, the 4yro will hate bugs, and will have learned to associate them with decay, rotting, etc. It's a simple heuristic, nothing more.

            • This [post-gazette.com] might be something like what zappepcs was remembering. I dimly recall reading similar research several years ago -- basically, the findings are that babies appear to be more aware of or interested in snake and spider shapes, but do not fear them until they've seen an adult express fear at them. A choice excerpt (emphasis mine):

              Even though the babies pay special attention to spiders and snakes, they do not innately fear them, Dr. Rakison said.

              "If you put a baby in a tank with a snake," he said, "they

    • by Gorobei (127755)

      The article says nothing about DNA "modifications."

      When a mommy mouse makes a baby mouse, the baby mouse depends on:
      1. The DNA it gets from the mom and dad mice.
      2. The chemical/hormonal environment during development in the womb.

      The article says point 2 is more important than expected (although there is a lot of folk wisdom that implies it, so it may be more that scientists dismissed/ignored/couldn't test a fairly obvious hypothesis.)

      No DNA modification/Lamarkian inheritance is going on: beyond raw DNA,

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cyberax (705495)

        Read what grandparent says.

        It's actually quite possible that epigenetic DNA modifications DO happen in these mice.

        • by Gorobei (127755)

          The grandparent post was gibberish about histones.

          No one is claiming epigenetics is false. You just don't need to invent a bunch of random ideas to explain what is observed.

          • by TheLink (130905)
            What I'd like to see tested is whether the mice's grandchildren inherit the improved memory.
      • by Rand310 (264407)

        How do you expect that the 'chemical/hormonal environment' affects the progeny in a heritable manner?

        It is quite possible that under certain environments certain sections of the DNA can be activated - and that these activations (in memory or elsewhere) can be heritable.

        This is not necessarily what is going on in the article, but it is an interesting and tested if unknown means by which non-genetic heritability can take place.

        • by Gorobei (127755)

          Numerous studies have observed that desire-to-explore vs desire-to-hide in offspring is affected by the stress of the mother during pregnancy. From an evolutionary point of view, it's a no-brainer, and needs no genetic explanation. It's about the most basic non-genetic survival mechanism you could have: if mom is stressed, get born in keep-your-head-downl mode, else, get born in exploit-the-environment mode.

          • by Rand310 (264407)

            How though?

            Through what mechanism?

            It does make sense. But how do you get there?

            Histone modifications and other such epigenetic effects give a tested and possible avenue for exploration. An avenue that is currently being studied in the scientific community.

            What biological mechanisms would create 'conditions' with such affects?

            • by Gorobei (127755)

              Given that the entire physical offspring is constructed from chemical inputs from the mother (save for 1 sperm,) the most parsimonious explanation is that if, during this bootstrapping process, stressor molecules (e.g. adrenaline-type compounds) are encountered, the offspring selectively activates its stress-related systems.

              The whole "growing from a cell into a live-birth animal" thing is a really complex process. It's why, for example, given the complete elephant DNA, you *can't* make an elephant: you

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      That is an excellent post on epigenetics. Incidentally it should be noted that methylation changes gene expression through altering the interaction between the molecular machinery responsible for synthesizing proteins and DNA in which cytosine residues are methylated. Histone proteins can be alterest as well to alter the tightness in which they are bound to DNA which also affects gene expression.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by loxosceles (580563)

      If these modifications are made during an organism's life, they can be inherited by offspring.

      Aren't you skipping over the lateral transfer step?

      It's not just about whether there are mechanisms besides DNA that can statically store data, or whether the environment (say, learning) can influence that data storage in a non-random manner.

      Even assuming DNA itself could be changed non-randomly in response to the environment, those changes still have to be transferred to gametocytes in order to be inheritable.

      I'm

    • the histones within the reproductive cells to be modified though?

      I can totally picture how this could happen for conventional non-reproductive cell division, but that generally doesn't affect at all offsprings.

      I'm not saying that you're wrong, I'm just really wondering how that's happening.

  • Lack of control? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noidentity (188756) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:22AM (#26869143)

    mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment [...] The mice were then returned to normal conditions, where they grew up and had offspring. This next generation of mice also had better memory, despite having the genetic defect and never having been exposed to the enriched environment.

    Who's to say the enrichment caused this, lacking a control whose parents were NOT raised in an enriched environment? And if they did do a control (RTFA, yeah right), the explanation could simply be that the enriched environment resulted in a more healthy womb that the offspring grew in. Parents pass a lot more than just DNA to their offspring.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by drosboro (1046516)

      There was certainly no shortage of control groups (they did several controls, apparently following standard protocol for this type of research, according to the original journal article).

      As for the "healthy womb" hypothesis, I think that the interesting thing is the specificity of the effect - the offspring show the same changes in a specific biochemical pathway (that compensated for a genetic defect) that the mother had as a result of the enriched environment. Not to say that it couldn't be just a healthy

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Telvin_3d (855514)

        So the obvious follow-up would be to get mice with a different genetic defect that is related to learning. Do the same thing with them and see what pathways are affected. Depending on results, it could really shake things up.

  • ...that these mice used practiced good parenting.
  • Actually, it was Newsweek [newsweek.com], a month ago. There was even a follow-up online-only piece [newsweek.com] on the same experiment as TFA that was out one day earlier.

    To comment on the topic at hand, though, it's no surprise that there are elements beyond genetics that contribute to evolutionary success. Embryology is extraordinarily complicated and there's plenty of room in there for the environment supplied by the mother to affect the form of the child, especially in species that gestate internally as long as most mammals do.

  • by Richard.Tao (1150683) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:44AM (#26869261)
    Females have all the eggs made before they're born, so how could the genetic material in them be affect by the conditions that the mother grew up in? Sperm DNA seems like it could be modified by the father according to living conditions, but it seems odd to think that environmental information in the brain would be passed down to the testes and such... It seems more plausible to think it's just the mice had a better mother.
    • DNA is only part of the equation. Put a frog egg in mildly radioactive water and see what happens.

      This study essentially just says "The environment of the pregnant mother can have an effect on the offspring." To which I say ... "Duh". Push down a 6 pack of budlight every day while preganant and I can disprove mendelson as well. No genetic manipulation!

    • by Zerth (26112) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:31AM (#26869521)

      Many genes are only activated in the presence of certain helper chemicals. Similarly, some proteins can only fold properly with the assistance of helper enzymes. Some of these helper systems form a loop and are kickstarted by the uterine environment.

      If you disrupt one of those loops by injecting hormones or other methods of altering body chemistry, like scaring the living shit of a mouse at an early age, the cycle will break and thus affect the uterine environment and not kickstart the next mouse's production of those chemicals.

      I could've sworn it had already been shown that pumping adrenaline into young female mice caused them to be adrenaline-sensitive and their progeny to be maternal inheritably adrenaline sensitive, but I can't find a link for it.

    • I suppose its possible that immature eggs can still be affected by the mother's body chemistry prior to and/or at fertilization. The question is what is the mechanism in which body chemistry can influence gene expression? My guess is that the particular chemistry of the ova (and likewise sperm) may impact which sections of DNA are "flagged" as active or not (junk DNA). It makes sense that cellular chemical composition would play heavily into the development of a fertilized egg the same way a pregnant mothe

    • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:49AM (#26871497)
      This was a common misconception until recently. You can read about it here [webmd.com].
  • by bcwright (871193) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:45AM (#26869265)

    Really, this is hardly a surprising result. There are many possible mechanisms that suggest themselves, operating either on the embryo or on the newborn - parents who are more intelligent are likely to be able to pass on more of what they've learned and/or provide a "richer" environment for their offspring, even if we're only talking about mice. The mammalian brain is remarkably plastic.

    The real problem for the Lamarckian paradigm is that once you've optimized the environment, socialization, and gene expression for the animals in question, it's hard to propose a mechanism for making more radical changes through "acquired characteristics" - and in fact no such changes have been observed. This study does not change that fact.

    The original article sounds to me to be altogether too credulous and sensationalistic.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by osu-neko (2604)

      Really, this is hardly a surprising result.

      o.O

      There are many possible mechanisms that suggest themselves, operating either on the embryo or on the newborn - parents who are more intelligent are likely to be able to pass on more of what they've learned and/or provide a "richer" environment for their offspring, even if we're only talking about mice.

      "The findings held true even when pups were raised by memory-deficient mice that had never had the benefits of toys and social interaction."

      So, tell us, how are the more intelligent parents passing this on to their children when their children are being raised by the less intelligent "control mothers"? Are you suggesting some sort of psychic connection of between these mice and their real, more intelligent mothers? Or did you just not read the article in question, and are basing the criticism on the su

      • by bcwright (871193)

        It's hard to be sure since the original article is not a proper journal article, but if I understand it correctly, the pups were swapped between the mothers at birth. This clearly allows for considerable influence of the birth mother, even though it would not be as strong as it would be if she had raised the pups as well. Various nutritional and hormonal influences might be at work here - in fact this struck me as a major weakness in the study: they should have swapped the embryos at a very early stage in

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:56AM (#26869333)
    Doh, why didn't someone tell me that "inheritable" means "heritable"?
  • ...they cut off a mouse's leg and the offspring are shown to walk funny.

  • That's what a good deal of what "instincts" are better called. Such behaviors occur sometimes in animals that do not learn from their parents or other functioning adults. In order for these to exist, they had to have been incorporated genetically. Since the species did not exist at some time in the past, the species and the behavior had to have evolved concurrently. Surgical excision of the part of the brain known to relate to a behavior disrupts the behavior. If there were no pathway for acquired behaviors

  • In Feig's study, mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment

    I'm not a biologist, but this raises my Occam's razorblade.

    Why wouldn't the simplest explanation be that the genetic engineering didn't "take" across the generations, ie that the "normal" characteristics reasserted themselves in the offspring due to standard DNA redundancy mechanisms? Another simple explanation would be that the researchers didn't fully understand just what exactly their genetic en

  • Not a joke... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chill (34294) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:30AM (#26869519) Journal

    In Soviet Russia, Lamarckism as interpreted by Lysenko [wikipedia.org] in agriculture, was the state mandated approach and genetics was essentially outlawed until the 1960s. Geneticists were fired from jobs, sent to work camps, prison or just executed.

  • or more that external factors could have influenced this experiment. I strongly suggest taking it with a grain of salt.
  • Just read part of the Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. Paragraph I left off on starts with

    It is not possible to prove that acquired characteristics are never inherited. For the same reason we can never prove that fairies do not exist. All we can say is that no sightings of fairies have ever been confirmed and that such alleged photographs of them as have been produced are palpable fakes.

    The article does seem to be a bit of stretch, especially ending with "However, he cautions, there is no direct evidence of this, and no specific evidence that the behaviors are transmitted through epigenetic mechanisms."

    • by bcwright (871193)

      This is a standard result of classical epistemology - it's certainly not original with Dawkins, it was already ancient generations before he was born. Proving a negative (any negative) is very difficult and usually impossible in just about any subject other than mathematics and logic and the like. Similarly we can't prove that flying saucers don't exist - but if anyone were to exhibit an example of any of these things, then that's all that's needed to prove that it does exist.

      It's an amusing coincidence t

  • This has been known for quite a while. However, only fairly little information can be transmitted this way, and that information lives on a DNA substrate.

    Think of the DNA as a printed book, and the "acquired characteristics" are like little bookmarks you leave in the book: they can't alter the text, but they can direct you more quickly to different parts and change your reading experience.

  • I am not saying this is bad science, or that they didn't find the results they did, just that the study belongs to a category where you likely need independent confirmation before accepting theur claim.

    Why? Well, in behavioral studies it is notoriously difficult have repeatable results, due to small test series and the high sensitivity of the parameters themselves, which typically are measured on very crude scales.

    It is a bit like judging contestants in chamber music in a steel plant. You need an awful lot

  • Why wasn't the legendary flatworm experiment enough to silence this debate and banish the disbelievers? Why wasn't RNA's role? Why wasn't epigenetics enough?

    I wonder if there's an emotional component to this disbelief? Too many people don't want to know or believe that their own actions and choices before they "settle down" and have children might also outlive them. All too often there are bad or foolish choices made before children are born, and even if lessons are learned later the children may still

    • by smchris (464899)

      I forgot about the flatworms [straightdope.com]. Came out about the time I started a psych major and I remember it being reported seriously.

  • This is Science! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xarvh (1244438)

    So, Darwin's evolution is not the only evolution?

    Great.That's the way of Science: correcting itself and rehabilitating ideas if they get proof.

    Lamarck's theory didn't work, but it was a legit scientific theory nonetheless, in that it actually took the risk of telling us something about nature: right or wrong, nothing reduces the scientific rigor and dedication of Lamarck's work and his contribution to biology.

    This is a legit revision of mainstream evolution theory, and has nothing to do with non-falsifiable

  • Were the second generation of mice raised with their environmentally enriched parents? Mice learn, that's obvious, that's how the first generation benefitted from their richer environment. Well, they learn from other mice, too. Like, their parents.

    Have they corrected for nurture? Have they corrected for differences in the mother's milk, even?

  • by wonkavader (605434) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:16PM (#26874831)

    I have seen so many people screaming "Lamarckism! Lamarck was right!" Because they want to imply "Darwin wrong!" or "Genetics wrong!" to generate a headline. While this stuff is interesting, it's not Lamarck. It's an interesting genetically controlled chemical phenomenon. It should have been expected. You evolve to deal with issues. You have chemical controls on DNA replication and interpretation. In shorter life span animals than humans, this can be a great advantage.

    It ain't Lamarck. Lamarck says that if you cut off a tail of an animal, in generation after generation, after a while, the animal won't have a tail. Lamarck says that if a giraffe needs a longer neck to reach leaves, it will stretch upward and that act of stretching will make its children taller. And that change will go forth, generation after generation.

    This stuff is vaguely like Lamarck, but it ain't Lamarck. People bring him into the conversation to get the uneducated excited. And at base, what they really want to say is "Darwin was wrong" because that gets dumb people really excited, which in turn sells newspapers -- now Darwin didn't say anything about mechanisms, so he's not wrong. And this new stuff doesn't tell us that anything about how we generally understand mechanisms is wrong. It's just that there's more. Well, that's fine. Go study that. Yes, we'll fund you. Shut up with the Lamarck crap.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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