MAR 29, 2016 6:48 AM PDT

Epigenetic Inheritance of Life Experiences

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
A mother can pass down red hair and blue eyes to her child, why not the impact of a stressful life full of hardships?
 

From Tel Aviv University, scientists are finding genetic evidence of a capability of worms to pass down information from life experiences through epigenetics. Study leader Oded Rechavi, PhD, and his team believe that stress felt by trauma survivors can be inherited by their offspring with an actively regulated process involving small RNA molecules. Essentially, certain small RNAs are produced based on a body-wide cellular need, and these RNAs have the potential to persist throughout generations and regulate cellular function.
 
"We previously showed that worms inherited small RNAs following the starvation and viral infections of their parents. These small RNAs helped prepare their offspring for similar hardships," Rechavi explained.
 
In their study of C. elegans worms, Rechavi and his team identified a process that keeps RNA activity alive throughout multiple generations. Certain enzymes called RdRPs are utilized to recreate RNAs so their activity does not diminish over time.
 
Rechavi believes previous assumptions that inheritance fades away, built around studies where RNA activity was reduced to zero after a few generations, are simply oversights. Instead, he believes it is simply a regulatory process that does turn RNA activity on and off but is still actively monitored throughout generations.
 
Rechavi and his team were able to develop this theory by injecting C. elegans worms with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-targeting small RNAs. The researchers knew the small RNAs were active when GFP’s characteristic glow was not visible.
 
This study, published recently in the journal Cell, described the discovery of the specific genes communicating with the RNAs to control the on or off state of the epigenetic code. The genes are called Modified Transgenerational Epigenetic Kinetics (MOTEK) genes. The researchers discovered how to manipulate the feedback between MOTEK genes and the RNAs to manipulate when RNA inheritance occurs and when it does not.
 
In the near future, the researchers from Tel Aviv University will look for MOTEK genes in humans.
 
 
Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University
 
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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