A mother’s life experience can affect the biology of her offspring, according to new animal research in the February 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The study shows that a stimulating environment improved the memory of young mice with a memory-impairing genetic defect and also improved the memory of their eventual offspring. The findings suggest that parental behaviors that occur long before pregnancy may influence an offspring’s well-being.
“While it has been shown in humans and in animal models that enriched experience can enhance brain function and plasticity, this study is a step forward, suggesting that the enhanced learning behavior and plasticity can be transmitted to offspring long before the pregnancy of the mother,” said Li-Huei Tsai, PhD, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an expert unaffiliated with the current study.
In the current study, Feig and his colleagues found that the offspring of mothers who had experienced environmental enrichment before adolescence also showed enhanced LTP (enhanced long-term potentiation (LTP), which is thought to form the cellular basis of memory), despite never experiencing the stimulating environment themselves. Offspring born to environmentally enriched mothers, but reared by other mice, showed enhanced LTP as well. These findings suggest that environmental enrichment’s enhancement of LTP is transmitted to the next generation before birth.
Interesting how the early debate over evolution plays itself out now that we can observe these things:
“Lamarckism” or “Lamarckianism” is now often used in a rather derogatory sense to refer to the theory that acquired traits can be inherited. What Lamarck actually believed was more complex: organisms are not passively altered by their environment, as his colleague Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire thought. Instead, a change in the environment causes changes in the needs of organisms living in that environment, which in turn causes changes in their behavior. Altered behavior leads to greater or lesser use of a given structure or organ; use would cause the structure to increase in size over several generations, whereas disuse would cause it to shrink or even disappear.
It’s a feedback loop. Darwin observed the negative side of the loop, or the culling of the unfit; Lamarck observed the positive side, which is that organisms respond actively to their environment and so direct their own evolution.
This new research is the mediate stage: that epigentics, hormones during birth, and past experience all contribute to the recombination of genes that produces a newborn.
And the headline? Well, it’s easy. If you live like a hipster or third-worlder, and really there’s not much difference except that the first-world people around you support you, your life experience is one of dumbing-down. Instant gratification. Cheap sex. Anti-intellectualism, yet intellectual posing. No direction, no struggle, just an easy life of avoiding obligation and struggle.
What do you think that passes on to your kids? A dumbing-down. But if you live a moral life, working hard to do what’s right and also prosper, and avoid the easy dissolution and glib self-justification of the hipster, you produce better kids.
Which is good, because they’re going to be the ones who have to gun down the millions of hipsters and grey people surging out of the cities as they fail.