New research from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, has shown that it may be possible for information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in our DNA, possibly explaining “past memories” or reincarnation claims reported by some people. During the tests, researchers demonstrated that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences, in this case avoiding the smell of cherry blossom, to subsequent generations.
“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations. Scientists propose that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. In their experiments, after subjecting the mice to the cherry blossom smell (and assumedly somehow promoting pain in the mice during the exposure to the smell), the researchers noted that the section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was made more active in the mice’s sperm. Both the mice’s offspring, and their offspring (multiple generations), were “extremely sensitive” to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experienced it in their lives.
The findings provide evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – that the environment can affect an individual’s genetics, which can in turn be passed on.
Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.