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Biotech Science

Acquired Characteristics May Be Inheritable 242

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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  • Re:DNA Learning (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:19AM (#26869127) Journal

    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 training and remain fixed in this position for many years. There is no magic to suppose that this alters biochemistry to suit the new use. If you ask me (and I know you didn't) this is part of how evolution works. Once monkeys start using tools I doubt they will ever magically 'forget' how to use them. It won't be but a generation or two before this is part of normal brain function. If you've ever watched a new foal learn to walk within hours of birth, then learn to run in the same morning, you will no doubt wonder what is in the horses brain that makes them capable of this? Humans and other mammals have a long learning cycle for this.

    As mentioned, this might explain religion however tenuously. There are studies happening as we speak about how the brain is hardwired for religion, or more specifically accept that magic is responsible for things outside our current ability to understand them.

    The important next point would be showing altered biochemistry and/or genetic change due to learning/experience. The studies like the one that hints that engineering types are more likely to have boys than girls is important. It means that or hints that brain chemistry has biochemical effects on us and our offspring via genetics. Animal husbandry would tell us this if we listened, but we need to see it in humans to fully 'get it'... I don't want to say that this is more evidence for the support of eugenics, but... well, it seems likely.

    Truly, we are not yet done learning about the human condition. Perhaps one day we will be able to engender and recognize many more folk like Einstein or Newton et al. Unfortunately that will only come at the price of recognizing others as second class citizens or some form of Gattica etc.

    I hope that it is used to improve the condition of all, not simply the best or those most able to pay. Genetic change/mutation comes to all, just as rain does not fall only on the unjust. Eugenics would limit the gene pool and that would be bad for all of us ... in the long run.

    Hopefully this will turn out to be a good thing and not leave the human race with the regrets Nobel died with.

  • Memetics? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:19AM (#26869131)

    My first thought is that it could be a meme. Somehow, the environment caused mice acquire a (subtle) behavior which their offspring acquired (mice can learn by observation) and stimulated their brains resulting in better memory...

    Can anyone else comment?

  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:29AM (#26869179) Journal

    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 to assuming a trait would explain many things that do not yet have a good explanation. Put simply, how do we inherit the equivalent of programming?

    They say that small children who have never seen a spider are afraid of them? How did they learn that? Perhaps the hardwired instincts we are born with are not so hardwired as inherited programming. Which of course makes them changeable, and has implications for nature vs nurture questions. All very interesting.

  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:29AM (#26869185) Journal

    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.

  • by loxosceles ( 580563 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:49AM (#26869291)

    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 not a biologist but I know there are some theories about lateral gene transfer in differentiated organisms, and I thought those were still pretty sketchy. Given the novelty of histone research, I suspect they haven't gotten very far in investigating, much less demonstrating, lateral transfer of histone-encoded data.

    So... not at all saying that what you're proposing is impossible, just that it seems pretty speculative.

  • Re:Lack of control? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:11AM (#26869409)

    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.

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

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:30AM (#26869519) Journal

    In Soviet Russia, Lamarckism as interpreted by Lysenko [] 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.

  • by zooblethorpe ( 686757 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:51AM (#26869631)

    This [] 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 would show no fear whatsoever."

    Instead, babies seem to have a "perceptual template" for the creatures that primes them to be scared of them once they see an adult showing such fear.

    All of this could be rooted in our evolutionary history, Dr. Rakison said, and could even explain why we might fear spiders and snakes more than lions and cheetahs, for instance.

    "It's thought our ancestors spent a great deal of time on the savannas in Africa, so you could see lions coming from a distance," he said.

    "Spiders and snakes tend to be hidden from view, though, and you tend to see them close up. Our ancestors, particularly the women, spent a lot of time gathering food, on their knees with their infant close by, so you can imagine you're picking plants out of the ground and all of a sudden there's a snake or a spider right there."

    Dr. Rakison's baby studies build on earlier work with monkeys done by Susan Mineka at Northwestern University.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:54AM (#26869913)

    Heritability of acquired traits, perhaps - but in a limited framework provided for by genes. This is not a mechanism which could itself give rise to the development of new traits.

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

    by Xarvh ( 1244438 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @05:06AM (#26870189)

    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, religious crap.

  • Re:Finally... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pescar ( 1150203 ) <therainingmonkey ... .uk minus distro> on Monday February 16, 2009 @06:51AM (#26870641)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:52PM (#26874529)

    Darwin was merely a good scientist who was the first to publish an important theory that turned out to be true. But a lot of people make more out of him than that.

    A good scientst, yes, but not the first to publish. If you actually read Darwin, which of course nobody ever does, he quite explicitly and honorably gives credit to the man who first published "a theory of the origin of species by means of natural selection" (nowadays popularly and incorrectly known as Darwin's theory of evolution).

    I freely acknowledge that Mr. [Patrick] Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. [...] I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication.
    --Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent. 13 April 1860

    I've been told several times by molecular biologists who study DNA and phylogeny that Lamarck was more correct than Darwin in most of his scientific publications, but Lysenko's corruption of Lamarck's ideas and public adoration of Darwin have caused people to emphasize Lamarck's mistakes and to ignore Darwin's.

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