(Photo: Screen Grab via YouTube/EducationChannel)
Research in an exciting new field of science called behavioral epigenetics now suggests that the experiences of our most recent ancestors, good or bad, can influence the lives we lead today but science might soon be able to put an end to it.
Can't understand why you drink so much or why your personality is so depressive or chipper? Epigenetic researchers have uncovered scientific evidence that suggests that human behavior is influenced by more than just DNA but heritable memories that affect the way genes express themselves.
"At the heart of this new field is a simple but contentious idea – that genes have a 'memory'. That the lives of your grandparents – the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw – can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. And that what you do in your lifetime could in turn affect your grandchildren," explains a report on YouTube.
"Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten," adds another report in Discover Magazine. "They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited."
According to the Discover report, scientists identified a common structural component of organic molecules called methyl groups that carry these ghostly memories from our ancestors. When they become attached to our genes, they influence the expression of those genes.
These epigenetic changes were once thought to have occurred during fetal development but new studies have shown that methyl groups can become attached to DNA due to changes in diet or exposure to certain chemicals.
"Epigenetics adds a whole new layer to genes beyond the DNA. It proposes a control system of 'switches' that turn genes on or off – and suggests that things people experience, like nutrition and stress, can control these switches and cause heritable effects in humans," explains the report on YouTube.
According to the Discover report, "a study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene."
According to the new research, traumatic experiences in our lives and the lives of our ancestors leave behind molecular scars. "Adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories," notes Discover.
"The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too. And for those unlucky enough to descend from miserable or withholding grandparents, emerging drug treatments could reset not just mood, but the epigenetic changes themselves," explains Discover.
"Like grandmother's vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered. The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life's Etch A Sketch: Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse," it adds.