The impact of environmental change can be passed on in the genes of tiny nematode worms for at least 14 generations — the most that has ever been seen in animals — scientists have discovered.
“We discovered this phenomenon by chance, but it shows that it’s certainly possible to transmit information about the environment down the generations,” says Lehner. “We don’t know exactly why this happens, but it might be a form of biological forward-planning,” adds the first author of the study and CRG Alumnus, Adam Klosin. “Worms are very short-lived, so perhaps they are transmitting memories of past conditions to help their descendants predict what their environment might be like in the future,” adds Vavouri.
The researchers also found that repetitive parts of the normal worm genome that look similar to transgene arrays also behave in the same way, suggesting that this is a widespread memory mechanism and not just restricted to artificially engineered genes. Paper. (paywall) – Adam Klosin, Eduard Casas, Cristina Hidalgo-Carcedo, Tanya Vavouri, Ben Lehner. Transgenerational transmission of environmental information in C. elegans. Science, 2017; 356 (6335): 320 DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6412 More.
The authors call the sequence “environmental memories” but it certainly sounds like epigenetics. One wonders, were they reluctant to call it epigenetics because it did go on so long?
See also: An ID perspective on epigenetics
Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!
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